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Best Manning for the Job

First battle of the sibling quarterbacks lives up to billing as both play well, with older brother Peyton's Colts getting the better, barely, of Eli's Giants, 26-21.

September 11, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They stood side by side, as close as their shoulder pads would allow. Big brother reached over and patted little brother's back, mussed his hair, whispered words of encouragement in his ear.

It was a personal, postgame moment Sunday night between the Mannings, two of the NFL's most talked-about quarterbacks.

Just Peyton, Eli, and -- mere inches away -- a few hundred photographers behind a sea of camera lenses.

"I just told him I loved him," said Peyton, whose Indianapolis Colts beat Eli's New York Giants, 26-21, before a packed house at Giants Stadium. "Told him I was proud of the way he competed. I enjoyed watching him play in person; he's every bit as good as he looked on TV to me."

The Mannings, separated by five years and opposing NFL conferences, had never played football against each other at any level other than backyard games.

In fact, this was the first time Peyton had ever seen Eli play live as a pro.

The duel lived up to its billing. In part, the outcome hinged on a questionable offensive pass-interference call on receiver Tim Carter that wiped out a big first down for the comeback-minded Giants.

On the next play, a third and 11 from the New York nine with the Giants trailing, 23-21, Eli made one of his few gaffes of the game. He badly overthrew his receiver with a pass that was intercepted. That set up the Colts' final score, a demoralizing fourth field goal by new kicker Adam Vinatieri.

New York Coach Tom Coughlin, wildly waving his arms and bright red in the face, screamed at officials after the call on Carter. Asked about it later, though, he chose his words carefully.

"There's no place for me to go talking about penalties," he said. "I expressed myself on the field to the officials. It's a shame because we got the ball out there near midfield, and that's where it should have been. I was standing right there. It's very difficult for me to think that kind of play is a foul."

After the game, the Manning parents stared blankly from their perch in a luxury suite before gathering their belongings and somberly shuffling to the door. They reconvened in a room in the bowels of the stadium to dole out hugs to their sons.

"I'm glad we don't have to go through this for a few more years," mother Olivia said.

Then, perking up, she added: "I guess I'd take it if they managed to get to a Super Bowl together. That would be all right."

At times Sunday, both teams looked as if they could wind up being playoff contenders. And both also looked flawed.

The Colts rolled up 272 yards passing but seemed to miss Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James, now with Arizona. Their defense could do little to stop New York's running game, which amassed 186 yards, led by Tiki Barber's 18 carries for 110 yards.

"We did a good job against a good defense," said Eli, who threw two touchdown passes to Peyton's one, and had a passer rating of 88.7 to Peyton's 78.9. "We had no sacks and ran the ball really well, protected well and completed some good passes and made some plays. We just didn't make enough."

As well as Barber played, he was merely a sideshow. This game was all about the Manning brothers, and was among the most eagerly anticipated regular-season matchups in memory. The hype also took its toll on the brothers -- and some of the people around them.

"I've never been into a stadium, outside of when we played Kansas City after 9/11, when they put an opposing player on the program," said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, referring to the cover featuring the Mannings. "Who made that decision? ... I found that a little offensive."

Even Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy, while pleased about the final score, was eager to put the hubbub behind him. He said that to some degree he could understand Peyton's conflicting feelings. Dungy felt some of those when he returned to play Tampa Bay, where he was head coach from 1996 through 2001.

"I had that same feeling ... but not of this magnitude," Dungy said. "The buildup wore on all of us. Now we can concentrate on [game] No. 2 without all the fanfare."

That's not to say there weren't enjoyable moments for the Mannings.

Peyton said the reality of the experience hit him when he spotted Eli on the field even before the teams started their pregame warmups.

"I kind of caught myself watching him during warmups, peeking at him during the national anthem," Peyton said. "It was just kind of neat to be on the same field as him, knowing that that's my little brother out there.

"It's pretty awesome if you think about it. If it happens again, I want to see the two brothers, I want to meet them. I don't think it will happen again. It's unique.

"I hope somebody got a picture of Eli and me, so we can show our children and grandchildren."

Considering the swarm of photographers following their every move, there's a reasonable chance of that.


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