INDIANAPOLIS – Archie Manning experienced a thrill many fathers have had when his second son, Peyton, was drafted into the NFL by Indianapolis in 1998.
In 2004, Manning broke ground even more rare when his third son, Eli, was drafted first overall, too, and then established a career with the New York Giants.
On Sunday, Manning will be with his family in Lucas Oil Stadium, Peyton's home field with the Colts, hoping Eli can help defeat the New England Patriots for a second time in Super Bowl play. The Giants did so after the 2007 season, and Manning will be a close observer again. That he can see his son and the Giants play in February, Manning feels, is a testament of a team that overcame a rough stretch of road.
"We're very proud of the Giants. Obviously, we follow their season very closely," said Manning. "When you go on a four-game losing streak in the second half of the season, you're not really thinking about a Super Bowl. You're thinking about survival a little bit. You're playing in New York. All the rumors start circulating, the security of the coach's job, changes and so forth.
"If you're a parent, you ride that wave with your child in following it. For them to come out of it and not only to finish strongly and win their division, to win a home playoff game, go on the road and win two, win a championship in very hostile environments against great home teams like Green Bay and San Francisco, I'm really proud of them. We're proud of Eli, how he's been able to help his team this year. I'm really excited for them."
The Giants persevered through an up-and-down season. A solid 6-2 start that included a 24-20 victory at New England on November 6 was followed by losses in four straight games to San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Green Bay. New York won at Dallas, but then lost to Washington at home. The team righted itself and finished with season-ending wins over the Jets and Dallas, the latter being a 31-14 decision to win the division.
The Giants opened the playoffs with a 24-2 home victory over Atlanta in the Wild Card round. As the team did in its 2007 title season, it went to Green Bay to face the defending champions in a tough venue. The Giants emerged with a decisive 37-20 victory. The payoff was a cross-country date in San Francisco, a venue not strange to students of Giants-49ers history, but one that presented another difficult competitive atmosphere. New York prevailed in overtime, 20-17, to earn another Super Bowl date with New England.
Among the duly impressed observers was Manning, who credits, among others, a talented head coach in Tom Coughlin. It was Coughlin that marshaled the Giants to the title four years ago.
"I think any time that (playoff road wins) happens, you have to start with coaching," said Manning. "Tom Coughlin is a heck of a football coach. He's a guy his staff respects and works very hard for. He establishes good discipline traits and a great work ethic for his players. Sometimes you don't mention these things until it happens but you get in a big market like New York with a lot going on and a four-game losing streak, your locker room can fall apart. It didn't happen. That's a credit to the coaches and some good leadership from the players, too."
Many people have claimed Eli Manning has had the best season of his career. Manning completed 359-of-589 attempts for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, career highs in the first three categories and his second-highest seasonal touchdown total. His 8.38 yards per attempts marked a career-high, and his three top receivers, Victor Cruz (82-1,536, 9 TDs), Hakeem Nicks (76-1,192, 7 TDs) and Mario Manningham (39-523, 4 TDs) flourished.
Archie did not rate Eli's year against previous ones, but he thought the challenges of 2011 brought a different approach than past seasons.
"I think he's been asked to do more this year," said Manning. "They started the season with a pretty big transition going on in their offensive line. I think as a result, they didn't run the ball as well this year. That put more (pressure) on their passing game. Eli and his receivers have been able to answer the bell there. That kind of kept them in there some weeks. They started off with a lot of injuries in the secondary, then got injuries on the defensive line and with the linebackers, so they weren't really stopping people like Giants teams in the past. The passing game kind of kept them in some games, won a few games. It kind of held up until everybody got healthy and the defense and running game came around a little bit."