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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Archie Manning was waiting in the MetLife Stadium hall to offer a word of comfort to his vanquished son, and, yes, he had been in this position a few times before. Eli had just spent the season throwing 27 interceptions, after all, and once or twice even seemed on the verge of tears.
Only this wasn't a lost December cause in a lost New York Giants season. This was the Super Bowl, the one all set to notarize Peyton as the greatest quarterback of them all, and the whole event came crashing down around the big brother the way the entire season came crashing down around the kid brother.
|Peyton Manning was 34-for-49 with two interceptions in Super Bowl XLVIII.|
"It's football," said Archie, the first father of the NFL, after he was offered condolences over Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8.
The elder Manning paused for a second under the weight of this crushing result, forgetting for a moment that Peyton had already won a Super Bowl MVP award and that Eli had already won two.
"That's why I hate football," Archie said through a tightened smile.
Always gracious in his family's victories and defeats, Archie wanted some space on this night. He called Seattle "a really good team over there" and said he didn't want an informal news conference outside the Denver locker room to extend a Sunday in New Jersey that had already felt two weeks long.
"I just want to say hello to Peyton," Archie said, "and get out of here and go see my grandchildren."
He was side by side with his other boy, Cooper, yet another Manning who carries himself like a pro. But this time, Cooper wasn't interested in any cathartic exercises, either, his face a grim mask of shock and despair.
Eli, the lead tenant in this building? He wasn't walking the bowels of MetLife with his father and brother, not with the credentialed chroniclers of his wretched 2013 waiting to solicit his thoughts on Peyton's Super Bowl from hell.
But in the middle of the fourth quarter, a FOX camera found Eli slumped in a luxury-suite chair, looking lost inside a catatonic gaze. It wasn't enough for poor Eli to take down the Giants with him, costing them a shot at playing in a Super Bowl scheduled with him in mind, not Peyton.
Now he was forced to watch his older brother take the same beating from Seattle that Eli absorbed in this very ballpark, in which he threw five interceptions in a 23-0 loss. The Seahawks ended up outscoring the Manning brothers by a 66-8 count, picking off seven passes in the process.
And when it was all over, Peyton's news conference sounded an awful lot like Eli's. The losing quarterback spoke of an offense that wasn't sharp and of an opposing defense that "executed better than we did."
It was small consolation, but at least Peyton's night couldn't measure up to the nightmare that was the New Jersey transit station in Secaucus, at which fans on both sides of the aisle were hit a lot harder than the Denver quarterback ever was.
If transit officials were embarrassed, Peyton bristled at the suggestion that he should be, too. "The word 'embarrassing,'" he said, "is an insulting word, to tell you the truth."
Eli would never use that word, either, no matter how often his passes found the wrong player's hands. But chances are, he felt a bit embarrassed and hurt for his brother. He'd already revealed that watching Peyton from the stands, or in front of his living-room TV, is an experience like no other.
"I don't get nervous playing football games," Eli had said. "I get nervous watching my brother play … I will try to give him everything that I can give him to make his preparation [for Seattle] better, any tips or things that I saw."
That inside information didn't help Peyton any more than it helped Eli, and this play-by-play, piece-by-piece destruction of an all-time great was sad to watch. Peyton Manning had the season of his life -- the season of any quarterback's life -- and yet the record 55 touchdowns and record 5,477 yards meant nothing against a Seattle defense that treated him like an undrafted free agent running dummy plays on the scout team.
What the Seahawks did to Manning reminded of what Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears did to Steve Grogan and Tony Eason in Super Bowl XX, of what Ray Lewis's Baltimore Ravens did to Kerry Collins in Super Bowl XXXV. And no, it wasn't supposed to go down like this. Manning was supposed to be playing for his legacy, not for his pride.
But the Seahawks turned MetLife Stadium into CenturyLink East one more time, showing Peyton no more respect than they'd shown Eli during that dry run in December. And as Peyton realized the night was being ripped out of his gloved hands, those signature blotches on his prominent forehead -- forever left by his padded helmet -- started turning an angrier shade of red. The meltdown started on the very first snap. Manning was barking out commands designed to fool the defense when he stepped forward and suddenly realized he'd fooled his center, Manny Ramirez, instead.
This wasn't any Manny-being-Manny moment; the center had been a rock of consistency all season, but the Broncos couldn't hear themselves think above the din of the crowd, causing the confusion. As Ramirez's premature snap flew over his quarterback's right shoulder and into the end zone, where it was recovered for a safety and the fastest score in Super Bowl history, Manning had to know he was in deep trouble.
Suddenly, the man favored to win his second ring was being mocked on Twitter by Mark Cuban, who joked that the first-play folly won him 20 mil in Vegas.
Seattle had even deferred after winning the opening coin toss, making a bigger statement than the one made by Joe Namath's fur coat. The Seahawks had heard all week about Manning's majesty, about his permanent place in the sport's history, and what's the first thing they do? They hand him the ball and dare him to do something with it.
Manning never did anything with it. It was 36-0 before he threw a garbage-time touchdown pass, and when it was announced in the press box that he'd set a Super Bowl record with his 33rd completion (he finished 34-of-49 with two interceptions), more than a few people laughed.
"It's not an easy pill to swallow," Peyton said.
He signed a couple of autographs on his trudge out of MetLife, anyway, stopping for a 33-year-old ER doctor from Denver named Cheyenne Wiseman, who paid $3,000 for her ticket and the right to plead with Peyton to sign her gray Broncos T-shirt. The quarterback had passed her twice before caving the third time around.
On his way to the bus, Manning also stopped to offer a congratulatory handshake to Jermaine Kearse, one of the many Seahawks to enjoy a big game. "It was classy," Kearse said, "because he didn't have to do that."
Not after he'd just lost a Super Bowl to Russell Wilson, who was once a 10th-grade hopeful in Peyton Manning's camp.
This was supposed to be a full-circle night for Peyton, his chance to win it all in Eli's building two years after Eli had won it all in his building in Indy. At 37, after all the neck surgeries, Peyton was going to write one hell of a story for everyone.
But the story turned out to be an old one, as the Seahawks gave it to Peyton in the Super Bowl like they'd given it to Eli in the regular season. And, in the end, all an old quarterback named Archie Manning could do was wait outside the losers' locker room and explain why he hates the sport he loves.