There always was a pecking order in their Louisiana backyard, and nothing that happened last night would change the hierarchy. But Peyton and Eli Manning were back last night on the same turf after all these years, throwing touchdowns in front of their folks and about 78,600 neighbors at Giants Stadium. Peyton, the older brother, looked again like a genius, a quirky choreographer. He was reinventing modern football again as he went along, looking downfield, playing hurry-up, releasing the ball in a millisecond, messing with the minds of Giant defenders. Eli, the younger brother, was far more conventional. He was listening to the radio signals inside his helmet from Tom Coughlin. He was handing off to Tiki Barber and doing what he was told. He was just fine, though, threw a couple of nifty touchdown passes, gave everybody more reasons to believe in his future. “I thought Eli played his butt off,” Peyton said. “He’s every bit as good as he looked on TV and he’s going to be a great player. I’m proud to be related to the guy, proud to be his brother.
” They shook hands on the field at the end, and then Peyton told Eli he loved him. There was plenty of this gooey stuff, more than enough to go around. In the stands, the Manning family had gone more than slightly crazy during this long, meandering night. “A good game,” the father, Archie Manning, declared afterward. “It was different. I’m fine. I’m just glad I don’t have to do this anymore.
” It had been a successful affair, a good night if not a good time for the Mannings, and finally Peyton won, 26-21. That meant the Colts won, the Giants lost, but then a game like this one becomes far more than that. It is a test of wills, a tug-of-family. In the end, it wasn’t so much the arms or the passing stats that defined their differences. Peyton threw for 276 yards on 25 of 41 passes, while Eli was 20-for-34 and 247. You can’t get much closer than that. And if Tim Carter wasn’t whistled for a questionable offensive interference call in the final minutes, then everything might have been different. But there was an intangible presence to Peyton that overwhelmed the game, that rattled the Giant defense, that frustrated rushers and caused normally sticky cornerbacks to lose sight of receivers. He called the game on the fly, and never was swatted. This sort of innovation hasn’t always worked out so well for Peyton, we know. He hasn’t reached a Super Bowl yet, and now this season he doesn’t have the same kind of balance without Edgerrin James. But he is great fun to watch on a football field, and on most weekends he will pick your defense like a born safecracker. Given creative, playmaking freedom, Peyton rolled out in the backfield, out-dashed the Giant linemen, threw off his back foot for a first-half touchdown. He slickly operated a 25-second drill at the end of the first half, drove 31 yards for a field goal. Eli’s team, working out of the slo-mo huddle, had a few too many false starts, and then Eli committed a clumsy fumble near the end of the third quarter that arguably led to the Giants’ downfall. Backed up in bad field position at the end, he threw a decisive interception. The result should come as no great surprise. Peyton, 30, is in full bloom. Eli, 25, is a relative baby. So it was unfair to compare the two, but of course that always will be the case. There were those spirited backyard games between brothers, and then there was the shared legacy at Newman High School in New Orleans, where both Mannings became star quarterbacks at the private academy. But they never were much alike, not even when they were young kids. Nobody burned with the same fire as Peyton, a born leader. He always called his own audibles. There was the time he led his school, the Greenies, back to victory in a playoff game at Kentwood High, with a one-minute drill. And then, on the way home, the bus broke down on a Route I-10 ramp. Peyton walked up to the bus driver, asked him if there was a tape deck. For the next 30 minutes, he was the disc jockey entertaining his teammates with country music, making them laugh and calming them until another bus arrived for the rescue. Peyton always was in charge, a control freak. “He couldn’t relax until everything was perfect,” their mother, Olivia, said a few years back in an interview in New Orleans. “He’d be fluffing all the pillows on the sofa to make sure they were right.
” The same college recruiters came knocking on the Mannings’ door for Eli, and now, a decade later, they still have the same jobs and the same experts are analyzing their games. Peyton beat Eli last night. Then again, Peyton beats most quarterbacks on most nights. It was an entertaining game. Lots of passes, not many punts. Just like in those backyard games. “This is a lot bigger than a backyard,” said the oldest brother, Cooper, who was watching with his parents. “I was just surprised to see some people leave their seats early.
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