Super Bowl MVP 2012: Recapping Eli Manning's Championship Journey

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IFebruary 5, 2012

Super Bowl MVP 2012: Recapping Eli Manning's Championship Journey

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    As Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again.

    In 2007, the Giants rode a crazy completion and Eli Manning's brilliance to a last-second Super Bowl victory over the mighty Patriots

    2011: Ditto.

    Manning won the Super Bowl MVP in that game, and he did so again Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVI.

    For the next few months, people will debate whether or not Eli is a Hall of Famer, but for now, let's recap how he got here. 

Quarterback Genes

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    Born on Jan. 3, 1981, Elisha Nelson Manning is the son of NFL legend and former New Orleans Saints star quarterback Archie Manning.

    His big brother, Peyton, soon took up the quarterback family mantle, starring at the University of Tennessee before becoming the first-overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. 

    But Eli would certainly make his father, brother and all the Mannings proud in due time. 

Running Rebel

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    Although big brother Peyton spurned his father's legacy by heading north and playing for SEC rival Tennessee, Eli followed in his dad's footsteps and enrolled at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 2000. 

    As a senior, Manning won the Maxwell Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and the SEC Player of the Year, and guided the Rebels to a 31-28 victory over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

    He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, coming up just short of the most prestigious college football award, just like his dad and brother did several years earlier. 

Draft Day Madness

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    In one of the most bizarre scenes in NFL draft history, the San Diego Chargers selected Eli Manning first overall in April 2004 despite the fact that everyone knew he wouldn't ever wear a Charger uniform.

    Ultimately, Manning—who had no interest in playing in San Diego—was dealt to the New York Giants in exchange for Phillip Rivers, a third-round pick and their first pick in 2005.

    Credit Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi for pulling off the blockbuster, history-changing move. 

Learning Under One Super Bowl MVP

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    Manning's rookie season began on the bench, playing behind former league and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner, who had been cast off by the St. Louis Rams.

    Warner started the first nine games that season, but gave way to the rookie in Week 10 against the Atlanta Falcons.

    Manning hasn't missed a game or a start since that day in late November 2004. 

Early Success, Early Failures

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    Manning's first two seasons produced Giants playoff berths...and first-round exits. 

    In 2005, the Giants won the NFC East, but were shut out at home in the Wild Card round by the Carolina Panthers. The next season, against the arch-rival Philadelphia Eagles, again the prolific Giants offense underachieved, losing 23-20.

    In the two playoff defeats, Manning threw four interceptions and completed less than 60 percent of his passes.

Super Bowl Triumph

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    In just his third full season as a starter, Manning produced a third consecutive playoff berth, but given the recent playoff failures and a berth as a lowly sixth-seed Wild Card, little was expected of the G-Men.

    But Manning came into his own during the Giants January 2008 run, engineering road upsets over the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers, then playing near flawlessly in a tremendous Super Bowl XLII upset of the undefeated New England Patriots in Glendale, Ariz

    On his way to winning the Super Bowl MVP, Manning completed 19-of-34 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. But the play that everyone remembers was his miraculous escape from the pocket and heave to David Tyree which set up his last-minute touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress that gave the Giants a 17-14 victory. 

More Success, More Criticism

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    The defending Super Bowl champion Giants looked to be headed for a repeat in 2008, and Eli Manning was not surprisingly the centerpiece.

    Manning earned his first Pro Bowl spot in 2008 as the Giants won 12 games and the NFC's first seed. But they were trounced at home by the Eagles in their NFC Divisional playoff. Manning threw two costly interceptions as the Giants failed to score a single touchdown.

Turnovers Plague Progress

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    Despite his Super Bowl MVP, Super Bowl title and leading the Giants to three consecutive playoff berths, critics came out of the woodwork for Manning starting in 2009.

    He set career highs in touchdowns and passing yards in both 2009 and 2010, but late-season swoons that kept the Giants from the postseason were largely attributed to Manning's turnovers and inability to lead the Giants to victory. 

    Many people questioned whether or not he was truly an "elite" quarterback and wondered why the Giants made him the NFL's highest-paid player (seven years, $106.9 million) in August 2009. 

Eli as in Elite

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    Prior to the start of the 2011 season, Manning was asked if he believed he was an elite quarterback, in the same class of a Tom Brady or his big brother Peyton. 

    His "yes" answer set off a media firestorm; few people agreed with him.

    But in 2011, he again proved all his doubters wrong. Not only did he re-write the Giants record books, earn a second Pro Bowl spot and resurrect the Giants season in December, to ultimately win the NFC East, he played his best football in the clutch.

    Manning engineered six fourth-quarter comebacks in the regular season, threw an NFL record 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes and again strung together consecutive road playoff upsets (this time over the NFC's top two seeds, Green Bay and San Francisco) to put the Giants in the Super Bowl. 

A Repeat Champion

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    In the much-anticipated rematch of Super Bowl XLII, Manning again got the best of the NFL's brightest quarterback star, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots. 

    Manning's first-quarter touchdown pass to Victor Cruz gave the Giants an early lead, and after falling behind 17-9 just after halftime, he again brought New York back from the brink of disaster.

    Behind Manning's passing, the Giants recorded a pair of third-quarter field goals to cut the Pats lead to just two.

    And with 3:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Giants defense forced a stop, putting the ball in Eli's hands. He completed 5-of-6 passes for 81 yards and drove the Giants near the New England goal line, allowing Ahmad Bradshaw to score the go-ahead touchdown. 

    But in another strange case of history repeating itself, it was Manning's miraculous 38-yard completion along the sideline to Mario Manningham (a la David Tyree's helmet catch four years earlier) that set up the game-winning score. 

    Manning completed 30-of-40 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown to earn the game's MVP, becoming just the fifth player (Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Bart Starr) to win a pair of Super Bowl MVPs.