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Brady is as smooth on the field as away from it. He had success almost from the moment he slipped into the starting lineup in New England in the second game of the 2001, an opportunity that came after front-liner Drew Bledsoe suffered a sheared blood vessel in his chest following a hit from the Jets’ Mo Lewis. In a sense, Brady was still seething about being platooned with Drew Henson during his final season at Michigan and falling all the way to the sixth round _ No. 199 _ in the 2000 NFL draft. Once he got the job, Brady wasn’t going to let go.

Manning, on the other hand, was drafted No. 1 overall in 2004 by the Chargers. They promptly traded him to the Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers, the No. 4 pick, a swap that rumor had it was engineered by Archie. Either way, Manning arrived to much fanfare and not a little resentment.

Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl winner in St. Louis a few years earlier, was New York’s starter at the time, but even he didn’t envy Manning the situation he walked into.

“He’s got the name to live up to, the way he wound up there, and he’s in New York, where you can be the best thing since sliced bread the first quarter, and the worst thing to ever walk the earth by the second,” said Warner, who started that season 5-4 before giving way to Manning. “He won maybe once the rest of the way, but you couldn’t tell that by looking at him after any one game.

“What you did see was his resolve, his consistency and that didn’t change,” Warner said. “I can’t say from a football standpoint I saw a whole lot else.”

Asked this week why the Giants stuck with Manning through a rough start, owner John Mara explained the organization prided itself on taking the long view. Then someone asked Mara if he remembered the scouting report then-general manager Ernie Accorsi filed on Manning.

“Just that he has something that very few players have: the ability to put a team on his shoulders and carry them,” he recalled. “The one line I remember from the report is, `He can’t really run with the football. It’s just not in them unless it comes from Olivia and I never timed her.’”

That patience paid off with an improbable win in the 2008 Super Bowl. The signature play from that game serves as a kind of tableau. The Patriots came with yet another kitchen-sink blitz and linebacker Adalius Thomas got hold of Manning’s shirt and tried to throw him to the ground. Instead, Manning ducked down, used the momentum to spin away, then set his feet and fired a high strike 32 yards down the field, where David Tyree made a spectacular grab by pinning the ball against his helmet as he fell to the ground.

Manning has been less spectacular, but more efficient, since. As the Giants de-emphasized the running game, he’s picked up the slack and produced some of the finest fourth-quarter performances the league has seen _ a record 15 touchdown passes in the regular season and six game-winning drives.

That kind of leadership gave him even more credibility in the locker room. A few days before the Giants traveled to Indy, Manning got up and spoke in front of the whole team.

“He talked about what he’d learned, both on his own and from Peyton,” said David Carr, Manning’s backup. “He didn’t tell guys, `Don’t go out and party every night.’ He just reminded them the best party they’d ever had was the one after winning the Super Bowl, not the ones before.”