I Elisha Nelson Manning starts talking slowly. Reluctantly, really.
For a star quarterback, he carries an uncommon antipathy to spotlights. But he knows from all those years of watching and admiring big brother Peyton that it has to be done. You take the superstar money, you pay the superstar dues.
So why did they hand him such a handle in the first place? Didn’t they know it was bound to get heavy?
Nobody seems to know.
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What they do know is this, Eli says: The Patriots will be coming.
“I have to get the ball out. You don’t want to make a living throwing under the gun, but sometimes you have to. If it’s normal rhythm and I pump, you’re the receiver, you come back to me. And if I pump, you turn it up field.”
Eli pauses, not for dramatic effect but because he’s bracing for the next question. For a 31-year-old who grew up way down yonder in Louisiana (I mean, it’s out there and then some), he has made a graceful transition to New York’s big city and big stage.
We should have known he would, because his big brother Peyton always had such a grip, and still has. I’m not sure Eli will ever be quite as smooth as Peyton. Still a little too much Mississippi mud in his makeup from his days at Ole Miss. But Eli’s sincerity soars and scores.
“It’s little things that you talk to your receivers about,” he goes on. “You’d love every play to be on that perfect rhythm. You know, you’re hitting your fifth step and the ball’s coming out. The reality is, sometimes you have to break the pocket and scramble.”
The spread — 3 1/2 points in the Patriots’ favor — says Eli will be doing just that.
Coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t enjoy talking about this. He likes positive, not negative. He wants things done by design, not on the fly. Which doesn’t mean they will be done that way when New England starts coming.
Oh, the Patriots will pour it on. I don’t mean they’ll beat up on the Giants. It’s just that with the Pats it’s hell from the bell. Even as low key as Tom Brady is, they’re more Sonny Liston than Floyd Patterson.
Neither Eli nor Brady is any great charmer. I should say, neither is willing to take the extra step required to charm. Phil Simms was and is a charmer. The old Giant now with CBS still relates. He walks the halls gladly, not with the shuffling gait of a quarterback forced on stage against his will. Simms is grateful to be here, which I’m sorry to say not many quarterbacks are.
Most of them don’t appreciate the spotlight until it leaves them. Most of them are just learning to say hello when it’s time to say goodbye. Quarterbacks are intrinsically the most selfish people in sports. Yes, they have to be. It’s a lonely job, but it doesn’t make them any more likeable.
So neither Eli nor Brady is all that winsome. So what? This isn’t a popularity contest.
And it was just four years ago, in Super Bowl XLII, that Eli Manning manned up the 83-yard drive that beat the Patriots 17-14 after they had come in with an 18-0 record.
That’s sort of important. Or did somebody already say that?