- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

Act III of “Peyton and Eli,” the last and least known of Shakespeare’s plays, is fast drawing to a close. It began with the Manning siblings staging a spirited duel in the season opener — and with Younger Brother more than holding his own against Older Brother — but the plot has taken an unexpected turn. While Peyton’s Colts looked in Super Bowl form the other night during their bopping of the Bengals, Eli’s Giants might actually miss the playoffs after unraveling in the fourth quarter against the Eagles.

Not to worry, though. There’s always Act IV — in which Tiki Barber gallops off into retirement and Eli laments, “My kingdom for a horse … or at least a multipurpose back!”

Is it just me, or have the trials and tribulations of the Brothers Manning gotten to be a bit much? Granted, one of them plays quarterback in New York, and the other is the most visible commercial pitchman this side of the AFLAC duck, but we’re not talking about Prince William and Prince Harry here. I mean, the future of the monarchy doesn’t rest on their shoulder pads. Heck, the future of the NFL Network isn’t even riding on them.

So can we just tone it down a tad and — instead of constantly comparing them and obsessing over their occasional failures — appreciate these guys for what they are? There are, after all, only 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and two of them sprang from the same household in New Orleans, the one presided over by Archie and Olivia Manning. What are the odds of that happening, even given dad’s exploits as a QB?

Until recently, they were almost nil. In fact, when Peyton entered the league in 1998, there had been only one pair of quarterbacking brothers in NFL history — Terry and Craig Bradshaw. Craig never threw a pass, though, in his two games of active duty with the Houston Oilers in 1980, so the Bradshaws probably shouldn’t even count.

Since then there have been a bunch of them — Ty and Koy Detmer, Matt and Tim Hasselbeck, Damon and Brock Huard, Josh and Luke McCown (with Carson Palmer and younger bro Jordan, just finishing up at UTEP, on deck). None of the duos, though, has come even close to Archie’s boys.

And yet, this cloud of disappointment seems to follow the Mannings around. In Peyton’s case, it’s because all his completions, yards and touchdowns haven’t added up to any NFL titles. And in Eli’s case, as much as anything, it’s because he hasn’t been the instant success his brother was. No, his progress has been more typical of a young quarterback: One week he’s making your hair stand on end, the next week he’s making it fall out.

It doesn’t help, either, that they’re viewed in some quarters as silver-spooners. Why, Eli essentially picked his own team, refusing to sign with the Chargers after they drafted him No. 1 and forcing a trade with the Giants. The NFL is full of players who were born deep in their own territory, so to speak; for the Mannings, though, it has always been first-and-goal. At least, that’s the perception.

Certainly, their story isn’t as heartwarming as that of Jack and Pug Manders. In the space of a few years in the Teens and ‘20s, the Manders brood, nine of them, lost both parents and the family’s South Dakota farm. But somehow, Jack wound up with the Chicago Bears and became one of the great kickers of the early days — “Automatic Jack.” And somehow, Pug wound up with the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers and led the league in rushing in 1941.

The Mannings can’t top that. Nor, try as they might, could they ever be as entertaining as John and Vito Kissell. The Kissells, sons of a Polish-born cotton mill worker in Nashua, N.H., were two of four brothers to play in the NFL. At the end of the 1949 season, their club offered the players a deal: If you want to take your warm-up jacket home, we’ll split the cost with you 50-50. This gave John and Vito an idea. They went to management, teammate George Ratterman recalled, “and asked [it] to take the two individual halves they had coming and issue a free jacket between them.”

But that’s OK, the Mannings have enough going for them. Would anybody be surprised to see them square off someday in a Super Bowl or Pro Bowl? Theirs, it appears, is a healthy rivalry — none of this Cain and Abel stuff. More like Able (Eli) and Abler (Peyton).

As for their illustrious father, I have just one piece of advice: Get thee to a sperm bank, quick. That DNA is worth a fortune.

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