Growing up in the shadow of a famous father can be overwhelming for a child, and the challenge of following the footsteps of an older sibling can also be harmful for a kid’s ego. Then, there is Eli Manning’s childhood; his father (Archie Manning) was a football hero in the Deep South and his brother (Peyton Manning) is the advertising face of the NFL with countless commercials. And all he does is become the MVP of Super Bowl XLII, in which he led the New York Giants to a victory over the previous undefeated New England Patriots.
While having a successful senior year as a high school football player, Manning was still undecided on which university to attend in the fall. That changed after receiving a call from David Cutcliffe. The Manning family was familiar with him, as Cutcliffe was offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee, and helped older brother Peyton elevate his overall game. He was named Head Coach of the University of Mississippi football team, and was hoping Eli Manning would become his first prize recruit in rebuilding the Rebel program. Upon hearing Cutcliffe’s recruiting pitch; Manning followed his father’s footstep, and became starting QB at Ole Miss.
Manning’s collegiate career was a lot like his personality: quiet but successful. He set or tied 45 single-game, season, and career records at Ole Miss. In his senior year, Manning won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best all-around collegiate player, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and finished in third-place for the 2003 Heisman Trophy Award behind eventual winner Jason White, quarterback of Oklahoma, and University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
All the draft experts projected him to be the first overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft but there was one hitch – Manning did not want to play football in San Diego, and formally sent a letter to the Chargers requesting them not to choose him in the draft. Despite his request, the Chargers drafted Manning with the first overall selection. Subsequently, he was traded on draft-day to the Giants in return for fourth overall pick quarterback Philip Rivers, a third-round selection (kicker Nate Kaeding) in the 2004 Draft, as well as the Giants’ first (linebacker Shawne Merriman) and fifth-round choices in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Manning sat for the first half of his rookie season, as veteran quarterback Kurt Warner tutored him. Then, Head Coach Tom Coughlin decided to start Manning for the second half of the season, as he wanted him to gain NFL experience. Manning’s lone bright spot in his rookie season was a last-minute touchdown drive to defeat arch-rival Dallas Cowboys, which ended the Giants’ eight-game losing streak.
He started off the 2005 season undefeated, but Manning’s big test would come in Week 3 – a road date with San Diego. Charger fans did not forget the snub from Manning, and they repeatedly booed him throughout the contest. The Chargers won the game, 45-23, but Manning played his most impressive game to that point of his career, going 24 of 41 for 352 yards and two touchdown passes. He went on to lead an offense that ranked third in the NFL in scoring with a total of 442 points (the most points scored by a Giant team since 1963). But passing efficiency was Manning’s lone drawback, as he completed only 53 percent of his passes and his QB efficiency rating suffered as well, with an unimpressive 75.9 rating that ranked 23rd in the league. Manning also seemed to wear down as the season progressed, culminating with a poor post-season performance against the Carolina Panthers.
His second full season as a starting quarterback was reminiscent of his prior campaign, starting off strong but declining in production toward the end of the season. His overall numbers were an improvement, as Manning had a five point improvement in his completion rate, but still ranked 18th in the league in QB efficiency. Many perceived him to be a solid QB, but not in the class of other young quarterbacks from his draft class like Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Determined to rebound in 2007, Manning trained in the off-season to perfect his timing and chemistry with the Giants’ leading receivers, wide receiver Plaxico Burress and tight end Jeremy Shockey. He opened the season with an outstanding performance against the Cowboys, throwing for over 300 yards and four touchdown passes in the game. But once again his production diminished toward the end of the regular season. Giants’ co-owner John Mara challenged him to rebound and lead the team on a successful playoff run, which he did, bouncing back with an exceptional performance in a lost to the Patriots in the final regular season game.
Then came a playoff run to dwarf all other playoff runs in modern sports history. It began with a convincing victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, followed by a victory over the Cowboys, and a Super Bowl berth was secured by an improbable overtime victory in Green Bay.
Then in front of a record-setting television audience, Manning directed a late fourth quarter touchdown drive to defeat the Patriots. He became the second QB to throw two go-ahead TD passes in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl (Joe Montana being the first). The Giants became the first team in league history to win eleven road games in one season. And the Manning’s became the first set of brothers to win successive post-season MVP honors in all of professional sports.
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