No more Mr. Nice Guy

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It wasn't so long ago that some believed this family would never win.

Peyton Manning couldn't win a Super Bowl. Eli Manning couldn't win a playoff game. Archie's boys were just too nice to overcome the stifling pressure of their seven-letter surname.

But in back-to-back Super Bowls played before a combined audience of more than 180 million people, a family that lives a very public life was able to share a profound and private joy. One year after Peyton stood at midfield in Miami and raised the Vince Lombardi trophy, he was shifting in his seat in Glendale, Ariz., living and dying with the Giants' every play, able to exhale only when his little brother took a 17-14 triumph over New England.

How many people could truly comprehend the emotions Peyton was going through?

The Williams sisters of tennis know the feeling. Each has won Grand Slam events with the other sitting in the family box, eyes shielded by sunglasses, nerves undoubtedly raw. (Even harder for the Williams sisters, they enter many events knowing they will likely have to face one another.)

What was it like for Leon Spinks to watch his little brother, Michael, get knocked out by Mike Tyson? Or Joe DiMaggio standing in center field watching brother, Dom, strike out? Or golfers Hank Kuehne and Kelli Kuehne bearing witness to Tiger Woods trumping their brother, Trip, in the 1994 United States Amateur, unleashing an uppercut on the edge of Sawgrass' island green?

For awhile, it looked as though Eli might never be a part of the conversation. He would live out his playing days as Robin to Peyton's Batman, and who really needs Robin around anyway?

In the win-now-or-else world of professional sports, it was easy to forget that Eli just completed his fourth year in the National Football League, a time frame that still calls for learning the game's nuances even as he was throwing all those picks. Who knew that behind all the errors, he was still getting better? Who knew that despite all of Eli's boring postgame press conferences, there was a passion burning somewhere deep in his belly, just not on his sleeves as New Yorkers prefer?

Each step in the postseason seemed to prepare Eli for the next one. In the wild-card round he outplayed the gritty Jeff Garcia. In the divisional playoff he outsmarted the NFL's "It" quarterback, Tony Romo. In the NFC Championship he outgunned Brett Favre. In the Super Bowl he out-Bradyed Tom Brady, leaving the Patriots quarterback to feel like Boomer Esiason watching Joe Montana break his heart.

Through it all, the Manning clan hopscotched the country and followed the Giants' chase, older brother Cooper among the first to greet Eli after the Giants beat Tampa Bay in the wild-card round. After the family split up in the divisional round (Peyton and his Colts were losing to San Diego the same day the Giants beat Dallas) the focus turned to Eli. And the kid was all right.

While Super Bowl XLII will be remembered as the end of the Patriots' chase for perfection (and, to some, a bitter karmic comeuppance for their head coach), it will also be recalled for Eli's arrival. His final drive, which included shaking off a scrum of Patriots defenders and heaving a 32-yard strike to David Tyree, will be mentioned along with history's other late-game sorties.

But Super Bowl XLII also did one more thing. It set in motion the countdown to the day when Eli and Peyton square off in a Super Bowl of their own.

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