Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Eli Manning, Tom Brady seek to seize precious Super Bowl moment

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INDIANAPOLIS

Here in Peyton Place, there are always lessons for visitors to learn. Even if you happen to be an old rival, and even if you happen to be a younger brother.

This is his town, by golly, and these are his fans, and the field at Lucas Oil Stadium is his backyard. Missed season or not, questionable future or not, this is still Peyton Manning's town.

The other quarterbacks? Tom Brady? Eli Manning? They're just visiting dignitaries, trying to grab another trophy while the grabbing is good.

When you get down to it, isn't that the point of Peyton's possible exile from Indianapolis? Isn't that the message from the headlines?

Pay attention, Tom: Not many quarterbacks get to leave the game while picking confetti out their hair. Some exits are ugly, some are painful, and some are both.

Listen up, Eli: Tomorrow isn't guaranteed, especially if it demands a $28 million bonus. Someday, the owner who is calling his quarterback a politician may be yours.

These days, there is angst in the headlines in Indianapolis. The owner and the quarterback are in a snit, and the surgeons keep opening up the quarterback's neck, and the owner sounds as if he may just prefer to keep his $28 million and let Manning go.

If you are Brady, if you are Eli, there are messages for both of you.

For Eli, this says to keep plugging. Yes, you can pass your big brother in Super Bowl rings on Sunday, but everyone knows that Eli's career is far short of Peyton's. Look at the yardage. Look at the records. There are loads of games to win before you are the Ultimate Manning.

For Brady, this says to stay healthy. Brady, who turns 35 in August, has said often that he wants to play until he is 40 years old. Deep down, Manning (who turns 36 in March) might have thought that to himself, too. That's the thing about football. The message in Peyton's cautionary tale is this: most players don't have as long as they think.

"You don't know if this is the last time taking the field," Brady said. "It's a very physical sport, and there have been a lot of players who have gone out there one day and the next, they don't have a chance to play again. There are a lot of things you can't control. I've spoken to Peyton several times, and I know how disappointed he was to miss a season."

While he is here, Brady seems determined to make the best of it. For the Patriots, this was an unusual season, because for most of it, New England seemed to have no answers for its defensive struggles. Instead, Brady hoisted the Patriots on his back — more so than in any season in his career — and carried them.

Granted, Brady wasn't at his best in the AFC title game victory over the Ravens. And granted, he wasn't at his best against the Giants' pass rush in their previous Super Bowl.

Still, do you want to bet against him? Peyton still has most of the statistics in the game, but Brady seems quite satisfied with his three Super Bowl rings.

Someday, maybe Eli will have that many, too. After all, he just turned 32. Still, the fleeting nature of his sport isn't lost on him, either.

"If you play this game long enough, you realize how precious each season is and how precious these opportunities are. (The Super Bowl) isn't just reminding me because of what Peyton's going through. Having numerous teammates get injured and miss the season or have their careers cut short; those things happen. You're reminded of that yearly. You don't want to let things slip away because you just don't know if you're going to get another opportunity."

Say this for Eli. He isn't Peyton yet, but he is no longer dwarfed by the comparison.

There was the time, he was the perpetual younger brother, the guy who wasn't quite Peyton. That can be hard to swallow for a little brother.

After all, when they were kids, Peyton used to play this game where he would pin Eli to the floor and pepper his knuckles against Eli's chest.

"Name the 12 SEC teams," Peyton would say, rapping away on Eli. When Eli got that right, it was "name the 28 NFL teams.' After that, it was "Name 10 brands of cigarettes.'' That, Eli says, is when he called out for a parent.

Now, he is in big brother's town, on big brother's field. He says he has no plans to see Peyton this week. On the other hand, how can he help but feel him?

Odd, but the last time the Giants reached the Super Bowl, Eli was supposed to be the weak link. Remember? Now, he is the Giants' primary weapon.

"He's an elite quarterback. Period," is the way Giants coach Tom Coughlin put its.

Who knows how long that will last for either of Sunday's quarterbacks. Ask former quarterbacks how long their careers felt, and they will say it is the snap of a finger.

Someday, it will end for Brady, too. And for Eli.

In the meantime, they might as well win.

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