As a Colts fan, I was lucky enough to have Peyton Manning as my quarterback.
The fact that he had a little brother who also played in the NFL was a bonus.
When the Colts played in primetime (which they did a lot during the Peyton Manning era), I always watched the Giants during the earlier games. Eli was a lot like Peyton, but he was also a lot unlike him – and I appreciated both aspects of Peyton and Cooper’s baby brother.
As the youngest of three boys, it would be easy to paint yourself in their likeness. But Eli never did that. He was unapologetically himself – before he came into the NFL and after.
I always think about what players teach young people by how they conduct themselves on and off the field. Eli was always a guy you could point to and say, “Be like him” – hardworking, humble, kind, and he never took himself too seriously.
As the years went on, the younger brother of my quarterback started to feel like my young brother. I was always looking out for him, defending him against his critics, and cheering for him on gameday.
When Eli won his first Super Bowl, I couldn’t have been prouder – especially because it was against our arch rivals, the New England Patriots. I remember at the time saying the only way I could have been happier would have been watching my own team win – which I did the season before.
In a stunning fourth quarter drive, Eli led the Giants to victory with a third down throw that David Tyree somehow took to the ground against his helmet (now referred to as the helmet catch).
Not only did the Giants beat the Patriots, they ruined their quest for a perfect season – allowing the 1972 Dolphins to pop the champagne bottles once again, as the only NFL team in history to go undefeated all season.
But it was Eli’s second Super Bowl that we Colts fans owe him a debt of gratitude for.
I’ll set the scene for you, in case you’ve forgotten.
It was February of 2012 and Indianapolis was hosting the Super Bowl. Peyton was out all season with a neck injury and uncertainty about his future was rampant. Led by a cast of quarterbacks including Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky, the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season and speculation about their future swirled amongst the festivities.
In town to play in Super Bowl XLVI? The New York Giants – and the New England Patriots.
As the big game neared, I looked forward to Sunday with a sense of dread. For years, we speculated about the possibility of a Manning Bowl. But instead of my Colts taking the field against the Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was the Patriots. The thought of the Patriots hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Lucas Oil Stadium was unbearable, yet all too real.
There was only one man who could save us from this fate – Eli Manning.
Once again, a brilliant fourth quarter drive by Eli and this time, a game winning touchdown by Ahmad Bradshaw, and the Giants defeated the Patriots once again – saving Colts fans from a fate worse than death.
I’ve always thought the Colts should honor Eli Manning by hanging his jersey somewhere in Lucas Oil Stadium. Maybe now that he’s retired, someone will make it happen.
At the very least, Eli Manning shouldn’t pay for a drink in Indianapolis for the rest of his life. And for that matter, neither should his brother. Hell, the entire Manning family should drink for free in Indy.
Thank you, Eli – for inspiring us on and off the field, for defeating our enemy (once on our soil), and for just being you. Because we never needed you to be anything but that.
It makes me incredibly sad to know that for the first time in 22 years, I won’t see a Manning throwing a football in the NFL this season.
It’s the end of an era – for now.
But I hold onto hope – that Cooper’s son, Arch, will end the drought we’re about to endure.
As Peyton said, “Nothing lasts forever.”
But memories do.
Thanks for giving us so many to cherish over the years.
Good luck, God bless, and long live the Mannings.