INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - He was always being compared to someone. That’s what happens when you’re the youngest son of a great quarterback and the baby brother of an even better one. It wasn’t until he compared himself to Tom Brady, though, that people began taking Eli Manning seriously.
That was in August, when Manning was asked whether he considered himself an “elite” quarterback like Brady. Manning said simply that he belonged “in that class.” But in New York, where blowing things out of proportion is practically a civic duty, even most Giants fans regarded it as heresy at the time. By Sunday night, it could be fact.
“It’s not my job to list quarterbacks,” Manning said this week. “He’s obviously a future Hall of Famer.”
Yet Brady has looked like anything but that in his last 11 postseason games, posting a 6-5 mark, including a 2008 Super Bowl loss to Manning and the Giants. For most of those, he’s been knocked around a lot, picked off more than usual and tagged with a quarterback rating that wouldn’t qualify as a low-grade fever. Measured against the nearly impossible standard that Brady set at the start of his career _ 10 straight postseason wins and three Super Bowl titles _ merely average would be a more accurate description.
Perception still lags behind that reality, in no small part because everything else about Brady still screams “winner.” Now 34, he is still boyishly handsome, still as charming as ever, still the most sought-after endorser and the one athlete even his peers would kill to be. He returns home every night with two sons to look after _ and a supermodel wife.
Yet those who know Brady have long marveled at how well he hides a competitive streak even Michael Jordan would admire. And despite outward appearances, they wonder how Brady is managing it now, coming up short of his ultimate goal every season since 2005, after winning three in four years. Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer ticked off a laundry list of things he’s been studying in the three seasons he’s sat behind Brady: mechanics, poise, and attention to detail, even the tone of voice he uses to command respect in a huddle.
But the one thing Hoyer worries will never rub off is Brady’s raw desire.
“At the end of just about every practice, I run out there and try to get the last few reps with the first team,” Hoyer said. “And just about every practice, whether it’s a steamy day in training camp or a short walk-through after watching film, he runs out there, grabs me and says something like, `Get the hell out of here!’ _ only it’s not always even that nice. …
“Everybody outside this team looks at him and thinks `pretty-boy QB.’ But Tom doesn’t try hiding it from us,” Hoyer said. “He’s a killer.”
Manning, too, shares that trait and has been honing it for nearly as long. Like Brady, he was the baby of the family and quickly learned he could get his way by being demanding one moment and wheedling the next. Like his father, Archie, the longtime Saints quarterback, and older brother Peyton, who almost single-handedly vaulted the Colts to the top of the NFL heap, Eli burned to win all the time, too. But he wasn’t above playing the trump card _ his mother, Olivia.
“He would pin me down,” Eli, now 31, recalled growing up with Peyton, “and take his knuckles and knock on my chest and make me name the 12 schools in the SEC. I didn’t know them all at the time, but I quickly learned them. … I don’t suggest anyone else try it out, but it definitely made me learn the schools of the SEC. Once I figured those out, he moved on.
“There were 28 teams in the NFL at that point, so all teams in the NFL. I had to get my studying on for that. Then once I figured that out, the one I never got was the 10 brands of cigarettes. When he really wanted to torture me and knew I had no shot of ever getting it,” he added, “that’s when I just started screaming for my mom or dad to come save me.”
Contrast that with the story Brady told about growing up with three older sisters.
“I didn’t have to share clothes. I didn’t have to fight over the bathroom. They were pretty easy on me. They dressed me up a few times in their clothes and painted my nails once, but it was nice,” Brady said without a shred of embarrassment. “They’d bring all of their girlfriends over to the house. It was pretty cool.”