A True MANning
- It depends on who you ask.
One might tell you it happens when you move into your own place, drive your first car or receive your first strand of underarm hair.
For others it's when you first lift a razor to your face, kiss your first girlfriend or start your first job.
For Eli Manning, this moment of transformation from mere child to almighty man is a bit harder to define.
Was it during one of the 59 seconds where he orchestrated the game-tying T.D. drive at the end of the first half against the Pro-Bowler-Boys from Dallas?
Maybe it happened during an audible call in O.T., looking almost too comfortable for the -20 degrees he was conducting in, each leading breath marking a brief, historic appearance in the freeze-frame Wisconsin air.
But still, entering the game against the All-World 18-0 Patriots, many thought Eli was still a boy.
No doubt a bigger boy than he was a month earlier, but almost everyone believed he was still a lost puppy. The ultimate underdog, if you will, marching his troops into Arizona to face an almost certain death, with a "nothing-to-lose-because-we-refuse-to-die" attitude.
Here was a guy, much like his number, 10, just trying to make the seemingly incessant transition from 0 to 1, like the many legends that have preceded him under the spotlight of the Big Game.
I mean, let's face it. Everyone experiences highs and lows along the ride. It's inevitable. But what sets Eli Manning apart from everybody else isn't that he plays under the microscope of the biggest media market in the world. Nope.
It's not even that he comes from a long line of football genes where, growing up, he was third string even in his own house. Nope.
What sets this kid…achem, man…apart from the rest, is his ability to steer his mind clear of the peaks and the valleys, and stay even keeled through it all.
At first mistaken for lacking leadership qualities due to his introverted mystique, Eli's quiet, seemingly indifferent attitude on camera casted doubt in the hearts of his fans and put smiles of confirmation on the mouths of his critics.
And just like his doubters and critics, upon his entrance into the league, I was pretty sure there was nothing I could learn from Eli.
From other guys, it was clear:
Peyton would teach me to audible at the line.
Farve would teach me how to sling my arm sideways to create seemingly impossible angles while on the run.
Elway would teach me to dive head first while en route to the goal line.
But perhaps what Eli can offer is the most important after all. Because what he can give is not something you can actually teach. It's more something you must realize.
There are different ways to lead a team. Eli Manning showed us in this 2007 season that his way of leading, though difficult to understand and to appreciate on the surface, is indeed more than enough, underneath.
It seems through it all, he's become a man. And an MVP Super Bowl Champion at that.
But maybe…just maybe…this whole time, he's already been a man. We just couldn't see it…
… until he huddled up his boys, with 1 second left on the clock, and confidently announced the words that every QB hopes to utter at least once before his time is done in this league:
"Alright guys, Victory Formation, on 1 on 1. Ready? Break."
So now what's that question we were talking about again at the beginning of this article? Oh, that's right…
Who's the man now?