- Seth Wickersham, ESPN Senior Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- By 1:34 a.m., Eli Manning had left the Giants' postgame party. He was still at the Marriott in downtown Indianapolis, but he was hosting his own bash in a separate room, just like he did the first time he won a Super Bowl and MVP trophy by leading his team to the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against the Patriots. His was a more Manning-centric party, with different music, different food and different wristbands required for entry than the blue ones his teammates wore, which were labeled "Giants Postgame Party, Super Bowl XLVI, February 5, 2012."
But make no mistake: Manning was still very much present. In a second-floor ballroom titled "Seven," past a black-carpeted entryway with signs that read "After Hours Lounge," the Giants -- alongside a few hundred family and friends and fans, the vast majority wearing Eli's No. 10 jersey -- danced and toasted and posed for pictures holding their index fingers in the air. A band played under bright lights, and when the drummer introduced the beat to "Livin' On a Prayer" -- by the way, Gov. Chris Christie was right: The New York Giants are so Jersey -- twin screens replaying the Giants' 21-17 win over the Patriots showed what Manning called a "huge" play: when he dropped back and lofted a deep pass down the left sideline for Mario Manningham, who tap-danced to touch both feet down.
The ballroom blew up in cheers because everyone knew how the drive would end. A few hours earlier, Manning had lived the spoils of that moment. He exited Lucas Oil Field, picking confetti from his hair, flanked by security guards, pumping his fists in the air as fans chanted "Hall of Fa-mer!" in the same rhythm they once yelled, "O-ver-ra-ted!" He weaved his way through the tunnel, past his family, standing in the bowels of the stadium waiting for him. Dad Archie held one of his many grandchildren, 10-month-old Ava, the first child of Eli and wife Abby.
Abby nodded at her daughter after Eli passed and said, "Dada."
Dada was all anyone could talk about. Archie laughed as he told a story from earlier this week about when Eli bought steaks at St. Elmo's for 25 teammates -- on the same night Tom Brady dined there; Eli's just constantly in Tom Terrific's face, isn't he? -- and some of the guys gagged over the renowned spicy shrimp cocktail. A few feet away, older brother Cooper, clutching the game ball Eli tossed to him -- "Only catch I've had in 20 years," he joked -- was asked for his funniest Eli memory of this past week and was both proud and surprised that there was only one. "On Monday, I said, 'I'm not going to call you this week,'" Cooper said. "And Eli said, 'All right, good.'"
Classic Eli: Blunt, quick, leaving you to wonder whether he's joking. In the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was discussing plays with Manning on the sideline when the quarterback blurted, "We can't run those plays. We don't have any more tight ends." He didn't smile or roll his eyes. He was nonchalantly matter-of-fact, as always, and Gilbride silently nodded, scanning the rest of his play card.
Unlike four years ago, when the upstart Giants ended the Patriots' perfect season, nobody was surprised that Eli -- and the Giants -- won. Sunday's game was mostly up in the air, but nobody ever considered that Manning was in over his head. He owns the Pats, and he owns Super Bowls, and the Mannings are used to January success. America's most dominant sports family has had a starting quarterback in four of the past six Super Bowls, with three rings and three MVPs.
Before Peyton Manning's first Super Bowl, Peyton called Brady for advice. Brady told him to rent a private room, win or lose, for family and friends to convene away from the masses. Peyton did it after he beat the Bears, and Eli did it after he beat the Pats in 2008 -- the win that justified the price the Giants paid for him -- singing "New York, New York" on a karaoke machine, putting an extra oomph on the line, "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!" Eli did the same this year. His party was on the first floor, blocked off by black curtains. Upstairs, where his teammates partied, where there were cookies frosted with the Giants logo and where Katy Perry strolled around, the boom from a Bon Jovi cover shook the floor. The frontwoman held the mike to the air and let the crowd howl:
You gotta hold on/Ready or not/You live for the fight when that's all that you've got
On the twin screens behind them, Manning was about to hand off to Ahmad Bradshaw for the winning touchdown. The ballroom was a mess of music and merriment, celebrating Eli as he celebrated his own way.