The Triumph of Eli Manning: Younger Brothers Rejoice!

Eli grabs birth-order theory by the nose in his quest for football greatness

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Brent Smith / Reuters

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, left, talks with his brother, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning before the start of their NFL football game in Indianapolis Sept. 19, 2010.

I imagine Archie Manning, father of super quarterbacks, New York Giants’ Eli and Indianapolis Colts’s Peyton, is having that parental moment. The one that makes you want to shout from the mountaintop in pride for about 90% of it, while the other 10% creates a sense of dread as you wonder if Eli’s success — and the pressures of birth order — just made things harder for his older brother, Peyton.

Younger brother Eli earned his second Super Bowl win and second Super Bowl MVP trophy over the machine-like near perfection of Tom Brady and Belicheck’s New England Patriots. He has emerged as the quarterback that you most want to give the ball to when the game is on the line. He dominates on third down, he lives for marching down the field in the fourth quarter to break your team’s back after breaking your heart.

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For a while, Eli was a second thought in the family quarterback conversation among armchair fantasy-league GMs. Peyton was racking up the numbers and the accolades. He was the fastest to reaching 50,000 yards passing. Four-time NFL MVP winner. He has so many all-star appearances (11), they might as well call the Pro Bowl the Peyton Bowl. Then again, Peyton had a five-year headstart and Eli is just getting better with time.

When Peyton stormed the NFL, as the eldest, we never thought to compare him to his younger brother. In fact, we looked only at his Dad, who was a stellar quarterback in his own right. Peyton seemed to validate his father’s knowledge of the game by showing that papa was a great teacher and like so many older sons, the legacy was comfortably preserved with Peyton’s excellence. The Manning legacy did not appear to need to be seconded by Eli.

Even with the monster numbers, Peyton took some criticism. For quite a while, it was said that he didn’t have that killer instinct to win at all costs. He was more funny (TV commercials as evidence) than ruthless. In fact, after Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was knocked out of the playoffs one year, he responded to the media’s questions about the “bright side” of the loss by saying, mockingly, that they sounded like Peyton Manning.

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Peyton would quiet the critics and get his Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP trophy which took the 800 lb. gorilla off of his back. He also beat his younger brother in a head-to-head match-up which was probably more like a 1800 lb. gorilla lifted off by a crane. But by this point, his younger brother, Eli was about to come into his own.

It wasn’t instant success; Eli had to fight for his job. He had to overcome a lot of detractors from his so-so statistical success. But then he learned to take advantage of a superstar tandem of wide receivers in Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey. This was 2007 and he rode that wave right to a 2008 Super Bowl victory over the team that was his big brother’s nemesis, the New England Patriots. The Pats had knocked out Peyton and the Colts just about every year and little Eli took them out in one shot.

So it is part of the new truth that in 2012, Eli Manning would once again topple those Peyton-killing Patriots, acting like the big brother clearing the playground for bullies that were picking on little bro.

With his second Super Bowl championship and MVP award, you have to be somewhat in awe of a legacy that is racing towards his older brother. It’s probably the same instinct that, instead of shying away from whatever his older brother was doing, led him to take birth order by the nose and arrive at the NFL years after his brother was a household name in redefining the QB position.

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I can relate. I am the baby brother of my family and I embraced my big brother and his dedication to baseball as a giant bull’s-eye and a compass. I told myself to follow in his path with my own shoes, discover new ways, take his good work and generous spirit to bring the family name even more pride and joy. My brother mentored me to improve upon his work.

Clearly Peyton has been supportive of his little brother, and this has allowed Eli to adopt a healthy attitude that makes birth order less of a burden. Eli could then make his mark in the shadow of his brother and father, knowing that as he moves with the sun’s time, people will see his true work emerge from the darkness, and maybe more importantly, know that it is his own.

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