Manning Bowl the focus of season opener for NFL

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, September 9, 2006

Eli Manning never could compete with brother Peyton Manning.

From bumper pool to table tennis, it just wasn’t fair. Peyton, five years older, was stronger, faster, taller and quicker.

“I don’t remember when I won at those things,” Eli said.

He vividly recalls beating his old brother for the first time at basketball, when he was 17. Peyton was 22 and playing quarterback at Tennessee.

“I don’t know if it was really fair,” Eli said. “I was in the middle of basketball season, I think, playing for my high school, and he hadn’t shot a basketball in about five years, so I probably had an advantage over him.”

It wasn’t a big advantage, but Eli won the tight game with a dunk.

“It was one thing to lose to your little brother, but to get dunked on the last play, he wasn’t too happy about it,” Eli recalled, adding that his brother was so miffed he didn’t want to be around his younger sibling for the rest of the day.

Their father took the hoop down shortly afterward, fearing Peyton could get injured, and there still hasn’t been a rematch.

However, the sons of Archie Manning will face each other for the first time in their NFL careers Sunday night when Peyton and the Indianapolis Colts play Eli and the New York Giants in what has been dubbed either “The Manning Bowl” or “The Brothers Bowl.”

It will mark the first time in league history that brothers have opposed each other as starting quarterbacks. The matchup almost overshadows just how good a game it is.

The Colts (14-2) had the best regular-season record last season, opening the campaign with 13 straight wins. The season ended in disappointment with a 21-18 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC semifinals.

The Giants (11-5) won the NFC East and made the playoffs for the first time in three years. New York was a no-show in the opening round of the playoffs, losing 23-0 to Carolina.

“You knew this was coming,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “You couldn’t have asked for more, two playoff teams from last year, playing in New York on opening night with a story line that has never happened before in the NFL. You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The so-called family feud has been hyped since the NFL came out with its schedule months ago.

The people who have had the least to say about it are Peyton and Eli, both No. 1 picks overall in the NFL draft. They have insisted it’s another game, because neither will be playing directly against the other.

“He and I really haven’t talked about it a whole lot,” said Peyton, a two-time NFL MVP. “Obviously everyone else talks about it a lot, and the hype … that certainly hasn’t come from he and I.”

Giants center Shaun O’Hara said Eli hasn’t indicated that the game has special meaning.

“It’s about the Giants,” O’Hara said. “He wants it that way. He does not want it to be Eli vs. Peyton.”

That doesn’t mean the game is just another one for Eli, who rarely shares his innermost thoughts with the media or his coaches.

“I think there is something in there that would like to show his big brother that ’I am as big as you are’ or ’I can compete at the same level as you,”’ Giants quarterback coach Kevin Gilbride said. “(It’s) ‘I haven’t achieved what you’ve attained yet, but I’m closing the gap.”’

Both quarterbacks should expect to face a lot of pressure from the opposing front lines.

Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis combined for 22 sacks last season, while Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora had 26.

New York’s defense also has been bolstered by the free agent signings of linebacker LaVar Arrington, cornerbacks Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters and safety Will Demps. New York returns all 11 starters from an offense that scored 422 points, second most in franchise history.

Indianapolis lost a major offensive weapon when Edgerrin James signed with Arizona. Dominic Rhodes will start at halfback, with rookie Joseph Addai as the backup.

While very fast on defense, the Colts are a little undersized.

The Giants might try to exploit that by using their big offensive line and Tiki Barber, who rushed for a club record 1,860 yards in 2005.

“I think there’s pressure on every quarterback, so the thing between me and Eli, I can’t really give you who has more pressure on him,” Peyton said. “I’ve been playing nine years and I’ve been dealing with a lot of expectations for every single season. That’s part of what comes with the job, and that’s why you like having the job.”

Whatever happens, the Mannings will be back to their normal routine after the game, talking football during the week and trying to watch each other’s games on television.

They’ll also be pulling for each other to win every other week but this one.