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INDIANAPOLIS -- Just for a second, in the bowels of his big brother's building, Eli Manning slid open a small window on his soul. He was not the quarterback of the New York Giants, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, the two-time dragon-slayer of the Bradys and Belichicks.
Manning was merely the father of a 10-month-old baby girl who was chewing on his car keys, the keys to his new black Corvette -- a ride straight out of a James Bond film for the action star whom Eli's boss, John Mara, would call the best offensive player the franchise has ever dressed.
"You got a new car," Eli said in a sing-songy voice as he picked up his Ava, wearing a red ribbon in her hair. "All right!"
As a blind believer in Derek Jeter's say-little, show-them-less dogma, Eli isn't one to show his human side in public. But there was No. 10 bouncing his baby girl in his arms, kissing her on the cheek, watching her spit out his Corvette keys onto the floor while his sister-in-law Ellen, Cooper's wife, snapped pictures of the second-proudest father in the house, right there behind Archie.
|Carrying his daughter Ava off the field Sunday, Eli Manning was the second-proudest father in Indy.|
Abby Manning, Eli's wife, was trying to keep it low on the side, trying to stay out of a few reporters' notebooks. "Let him talk," she said of her husband, the first Giants quarterback to win two Super Bowls and the first NFL quarterback ever to win seven postseason games away from home. "He's the one who did it."
The Mannings on this side of the family aren't much for talking, and yeah, Eli sure is the one who did it. Again. He won the Corvette to go with the Escalade he stole from Tom Brady four years ago. He doubled Peyton's total of titles right here in Peyton's place. He led the Giants on another championship drive, made another throw about as absurd as the one to David Tyree's head in Super Bowl XLII, and watched as Brady fired up another desperate heave in vain, this time not to Randy Moss but to a small circle of Patriots who couldn't come down with the ball.
And then there was something far more precious than the sports car waiting for Eli, something he couldn't have amid the blissful rain of confetti in Glendale, Ariz.
A kiss from his only child.
"Eli's always been real laid-back and easy," said his mother, Olivia. "And guess what? He's got a little baby girl that's just like him. She's very laid-back, usually asleep by 7 o'clock, but she doesn't want to miss the [victory] party. She's been up all this time clapping her hands and saying, 'Da-da.' The whole game she was doing it."
Olivia and Archie watched the game from one suite; Peyton from another. It's the way they did it in Glendale, where Eli matched big brother's Super Bowl MVP award from the year before.
"The last time we won, Peyton sat by himself," said Cooper, the oldest of the three Manning boys. "We get superstitious come playoff time."
Olivia remained in her seat when Eli got the ball at his own 12-yard line with 3:46 to go, Giants down by two. Mother felt pretty good about her chances. "I believe in him," Olivia said. "Eli's done it before."
Archie? Forget it; the old man was a wreck. He remained standing for the entire second half, pacing this way and that, practically covering his eyes with his hands. All these years after quarterbacking the sad-sack New Orleans Saints, after running for his football life, Archie couldn't believe Eli and Peyton had made it to the big game four times in six years.
"Olivia and I were looking at each other this week," he said, "and asking ourselves, 'What's going on here?'"
Peyton was off somewhere managing his own emotions, and hoping his kid brother would pass him by. Cooper was just as confident as his mother that Eli would win Super Bowl XLVI the same way he won Super Bowl XLII.
Wes Welker made his drop, a Jackie Smith kind of drop, and suddenly the Giants had the ball and 88 yards to go. "And I said, 'Oh, we've got a shot here,'" Cooper said. "That's all you want, is a shot in the fourth quarter. I felt great."
"You talk to Eli in the middle of the week," Cooper said, "and you can't tell if it's a Super Bowl week or a preseason week. I think that attitude goes a long way when your back's against the wall and you're in the huddle and you look into the eyes of your quarterback. You want to believe he'll deliver, and Eli's a calm, cool cat."
So that calm, cool cat did what calm, cool cats do. On first down, under pressure, Eli threw one deep to Mario Manningham down the left sideline, between two New England defenders closing hard on the ball. With Tyree watching in street clothes near the bench, Manningham somehow caught it over his shoulder and got two feet down, a feat so improbable that Bill Belichick had to challenge it, just had to.
Manning didn't just change the possession with one flick of his wrist, good for 38 yards, he made Belichick burn a critical timeout, too.
At that moment, Belichick, Brady and millions of New Englanders knew how this movie was going to end. Manning had already delivered six fourth-quarter comebacks this year, including one in Week 9 in Foxborough.
Eli drove his team deep, and Belichick was so unnerved that he mismanaged the clock, deciding too late to order his defense to let the Giants score so he could get Brady the ball. Finally, the Patriots surrendered on Eli's handoff to Ahmad Bradshaw.
"I took the snap and saw the D-line stand up and I knew what was going to happen," Eli said. "I'm yelling at Ahmad, 'Don't score. Don't score.' He definitely heard me, and he thought about going down."
Bradshaw tried to hit the brakes at the 1, squatting as if to sit in a chair before falling into the end zone. Brady got one last shot, just like he got one after Manning's touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress four years ago, and it didn't matter.
The confetti would fall on the Giants one more time.
Eli grabbed Justin Tuck from behind when it was all over. Near the victory stand, Mara said of his quarterback, "He just has something different in his DNA than everybody else has. The more pressure on him, the better he's going to perform. There are very few people on the planet that have that, and this guy's got it."
Asked if Manning is the greatest offensive player in Giants history, the LT of the softer side of the ball, Mara weighed the thought before saying, "Yes, I believe he is."
Peyton was the first to spot the possibilities. The morning after winning his title, big brother predicted kid brother would win multiple rings for the Giants, a prediction that sounded more like a joke.
"But Peyton's smarter than all of us," Cooper said. "It's funny to see your little brother grow up right in front of you, and not only on the field. It used to be where I was worried about him, but now he's a big boy and I can let him go."
Yes, Eli's all grown up now. On Sunday night, wearing a Super Bowl winner's cap in Peyton's building, Eli wasn't just a quarterback who made a champion out of a 7-7 team.
He was a man among Mannings, a proud father posing for pictures with his little baby girl.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.