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Southern charm of Eli Manning belies a fierce will to win

I caught Eli Manning on his way to a news conference. He extended a hand and said, “Hello,” as though he knew me from a couple of meetings, but he couldn’t possibly remember. That’s just his Southern upbringing making nice.

He will bring something entirely different, and altogether hostile, to Super Bowl XLVI. The New York Giants’ chances against the New England Patriots rest largely on that hand. I must say he doesn’t seem at all nervous over the prospect.

“No, it’s not just another game,” he said. “But it’s mistake to look at it as the Game of the Century or anything like it. I have to keep it in perspective. It’s more important to me and these guys than it is to most folks out there. We’re going to make history, and we want it to be the right kind.”

Funny thing about the Mannings this week.

Eli’s the one playing, but Peyton’s the one Indy is talking about.

Peyton and his Colts owner, Jim Irsay, have been doing a little cat-scratching over where Peyton might be next fall. Nothing serious. Peyton will be right back here, packing a $28 million bonus. That just isn’t nearly as important as Eli right now.

Something said about Giants Coach Tom Coughlin probably goes for Eli, too.

“Coach Coughlin probably hasn’t slept more then two hours the last four years,” Giants center Jim Cordle said. “I don’t know what fuel he runs on, but it’s powerful stuff.”

They must be feeding some of it to Eli, too. He looks wired, or as wired as anybody raised on Louisiana mud ever gets.

“Am I wired?” he repeated the question. “I don’t know what you’d call it. But this game definitely has my attention.”

And he has ours, as does New England Patriots quarter back Tom Brady.

He and Belichick are both making their fifth Super Bowl appearance.

“Of course I’d like it to be the best,” Brady says. “What do you think? The worst?”

And where would Peyton Manning, turning 36 on March 24, prefer his 2012 home base?

Indianapolis? Not likely.

Miami? The first move would be up to Stephen Ross, so let’s not tarry.

Baltimore? Could happen. Ravens would love to trump the city’s old Colts.

New York? The Jets are long shots, but they could play a part.

Washington? Redskins coach Mike Shanahan would just love another veteran quarterback.

San Francisco or Seattle? Spots might be open for Peyton.