Upon kicking off the NFL season, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning broke out the league record book, blew the dust off the page bearing the single-game touchdown pass mark and inked his name in as a co-holder.
With his game taking place three days before any other team took the field, Manning’s seven-touchdown performance dominated last Friday's water-cooler conversation among eager football fans.
Peyton was back—again—and this time with a vengeance.
On Monday, Manning’s name was still the hot topic—in reference to brother Eli, whose sloppy Giants fell to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Eli’s up-and-down outing, which featured four touchdowns and three interceptions, stood in stark contrast to Peyton’s near flawless showing against the Baltimore Ravens.
Like that, the stage was set for Manning Bowl III.
Once again, the headlining matchup would feature a perfect Peyton versus easy-armed Eli, who would need a heroic effort to overtake his older brother. This 2013 version of Eli, however, is very different than the ones Peyton saw in previous Manning meetings.
In 2006, when the brothers first met on the field as professionals, Eli was an erratic third-year quarterback. His status as New York’s franchise player had not yet cemented among the Giants’ fanbase. Peyton was two years removed from the second of his four NFL Most Valuable Player honors.
In the ‘06 Sunday night season opener, Eli’s Giants fell five points short of victory, as Peyton went on to guide his Indianapolis Colts to 15 more wins that season, including a Super Bowl XLI triumph over the Chicago Bears.
A year later, Eli famously toppled the previously undefeated New England Patriots on the game’s biggest stage.
But that game was a distant memory when Eli and Peyton met again in 2010. This time, the Colts had the game handled by halftime, as Indianapolis rolled over the Jints, 38-14, again on a Sunday night.
Eli led his Giants on a disastrous 25-interception roller-coaster ride that season, while Peyton returned to the playoffs, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to nine consecutive postseason berths.
A year later, the NFL landscape and Manning hierarchy would shift forever, when Peyton missed an entire season due to a quartet of surgical procedures on his neck. In his brother’s absence, Eli dominated his competition, leading his nine-win Giants on eight game-winning drives en route to his second Super Bowl MVP, a feat only Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and Joe Montana (three Super Bowl MVPs) had previously matched.
A full season has come and gone since then. Peyton, now wearing Broncos orange rather than Colts blue, is back to full strength. The Giants came back down to Earth in 2012, but Eli is now unquestionably elite.
On Sunday afternoon, when the Broncos and Giants take the field at MetLife Stadium, the faceoff between Peyton and Eli will be more level than ever before. It will be a slugfest between two former heavyweight champions, a home run derby between two major league sluggers.
An All-American gridiron grapple, featuring the NFL’s first family.
Those who love to spoil great storylines will point out the fact that the Manning brothers will actually never be on the field simultaneously. To say they are not going head-to-head, however, is to say Tom Coughlin and John Fox are not directly competing, since the head coaches are not expected to arm-wrestle at midfield Sunday.
Bottom line: The more perfect passer will win.