jranieli Posted July 24, 2006 Share Posted July 24, 2006 http://www.newsday.com/sports/ny-spsunspec...ports-headlines Manning brothers: inside and outside THIBODAUX, La. -- Things were simpler for the Manning boys in the days of the two-block rule. The only time that Peyton and Eli Manning ever played against each other in any sport was basketball, in the driveway of the family home in New Orleans. As Archie Manning did with his two older boys, Cooper and Peyton, so Peyton instituted a two-block rule with his kid brother: Peyton could block two of Eli's shots per game. "You didn't know whether to take 'em early to try and send a message or save 'em," Peyton said. "If you didn't have 'em late, he could beat you." And nothing stings worse than a big brother losing to a little brother, especially one five years younger and a head shorter. Especially when the older brother is a star quarterback on the rise and the kid brother is a shy, reserved little guy. Things were simpler then, in the driveway. Now, here at the Manning family's football camp an hour's drive from that home in New Orleans, Peyton and Eli and Archie and Cooper are all answering the questions that won't cease until after the night of Sept. 10, when the Colts and Giants open the season in the Meadowlands. Training camp opens for Peyton and Eli in a few days. The game-planning for the opener has already begun, well before the Manning boys and a thousand or so high-school football players gather here at Nicholls State University to learn from the Mannings for four days. For the family, it's a time to connect -- Archie and his three sons bunk together in a dorm, reaching back into the past for stories and childish pranks and bonding. But they're also reaching into the future, one fraught with anxiety for Archie and his wife, Olivia. "We'll deal with it and we'll get through it," Archie said. Until then, the questions will come, seemingly without end. Archie and Olivia will field all comers graciously, as they always do. Archie has understood for a long time that having two star QBs in the family means never getting to keep quiet. And the boys will take things as they always have. Peyton will tell good stories, give excellent sound bites and take the lead. Eli will defer and deflect, keeping his true feelings to himself. And Cooper, the sometimes forgotten oldest brother, will relish talking about both of his kid brothers -- he's the Manning who never got a chance to play the family game beyond high school but, as he points out, he's the only guy in the world whose two brothers will play on national television in the opening weekend of the 2006 season. "I've been struggling with this one for a little bit," said Cooper, 32, whose string-bean physique is in stark contrast to his bulked-up brothers, the result of three surgeries to combat spinal stenosis. "I keep thinking that no matter what, I'm going to come out of this game with a loss. I've even debated whether to go or not. I don't know what you do. Do you just pull for the offense? Do you get excited for interceptions? Do you get mad? It's going to be a little bit of a unique scenario and I look forward to it not happening a whole lot, hopefully at least in the regular season." No quarterback wants to start a season 0-1, especially Eli, the Giants QB, given that the team has such a grueling first-half schedule. For the Manning family, it's easy to try to downplay now, to say as Archie does that it will be just another number in the W or L column once Peyton is prepping for the Texans and Eli is getting ready for the Eagles in Week 2. But also think about what you do when you get together with your brothers and sisters, how it feels now as adults. How you fall back into the same roles and interaction, feel the same sting of losing a game of cards to your big brother at 35 or 55 that you did at 10. And think about those feelings as you see what Peyton and Eli say about this childhood memory, from when Peyton was a junior at The Newman School in New Orleans, one of the top prospects in the nation, and Eli was a tow-headed sixth-grader. "There's nothing worse than throwing to a receiver who can't catch. It's the most frustrating thing," Peyton said. "So I didn't have a receiver around. I'd get my dad to catch and sometimes my dad wouldn't be around, Cooper was gone away to college and I needed somebody to throw to. I had a pretty strong arm at that point, so I said, 'Eli, are you ready to catch some of my passes?' "I knew he couldn't catch my passes at that point, so I took a great big sweatshirt and just stuffed it with pillows and towels down the sleeves. He looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and I told him to just kind of run side to side. 'I don't care if you catch it, just block it, because otherwise if you miss it, it can go into the street or the bushes across the street.' "So he just kind of blocked it and of course we live in this old neighborhood in New Orleans and there's always these tours coming up and they'd see this kid running down looking like a big marshmallow ... I wish we had some pictures of it. But Eli was glad to do it, he thought he was helping me out, working on my timing and my accuracy a little bit." Eli remembers the bruises on his arms and chest before the pillow experiment. He laughs, and the reporters assembled laugh, too -- they will laugh every time Peyton trots out that story before Sept. 10. Eli may stop laughing, especially when facing his own teammates, who want him to be his own man. "When you grow up with a famous older brother," said Tommy Hodson, a longtime friend of the Manning family and former NFL quarterback who has worked all but one of the 11 Manning camps, "you sometimes have to just take a back seat. I bet that's how Eli feels some of the time, that he's just got to let Peyton drive." Eli started at the first Manning camp as a camper, a 15-year-old Newman freshman who stood and listened to the coaches and his famous older brother along with the few hundred other kids. "He was a camper for four years," Archie said. Eli's first summer as a counselor, in 2000, he wowed the crowd on the camp's "Air It Out" day with some big throws. "He earned his spot on the staff after that day." Now the kids want to meet Eli almost as much as Peyton. Peyton has a real ease with the kids, but it's tougher for Eli; Archie said he's most proud of watching Eli open up to the campers, seeing his youngest son's shell crack. "They are different," Archie said. "I think everybody's children are different. Your kids are just different. Well, Cooper is different, Cooper is crazy. Peyton's always been kind of serious and tense. Eli was quiet and shy. They get along good. They're brothers." "Peyton puts everybody at the same level -- like a level five, and y'all stay there for good with him," Cooper said. "Eli starts everybody out at level one and you have to show him you're for real before you can move up a level. That's how my brothers are." That's why Peyton can say the things he has -- about his "idiot kicker," former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, or about the lack of pass protection he got during his team's playoff loss to the Steelers in January -- and he's rarely questioned. It's why Peyton has had numerous Colts teammates down in the Bayou for the Manning camp in years past. He has that way with people. But Eli struggles. He said here that he made a mistake by publicly asking Jeremy Shockey to work out with the rest of the Giants in New Jersey last summer. Not only didn't that happen, but Eli spent this offseason without any of his top three receivers from 2005 in the team's workouts. Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer stayed away, too. "It was my first year as a starter and I wanted to get on the same page with Shockey," Eli said. "But I think as you play with them year after year, it's not going to take time to get that rhythm back. I have other guys to throw with, get my workouts in. As long as I can do that, we'll be fine." The hardest question for any of the Mannings to ponder is this: Who needs a win more on Sept. 10? Peyton's Colts won their first 13 games a year ago and they had only one major roster shuffle, losing running back Edgerrin James. Eli's Giants started 6-2 and they too have only gotten better in the offseason, adding linebacker LaVar Arrington and returning every offensive starter. "If you look at the schedule alone, I'd say the Giants need all the help they can get," Cooper said. "At least I have a lot of confidence in the Colts as they are. With the Giants, there's a little more of a question mark out there, so you're not quite sure who's showing up each week. You only get 16 of them and each one is pretty important. At 0-1, you kind of start with the idea of going 0-2 and then it's just like, the season is under fire already." Peyton was asked whether his competitive fire drowns out his desire to see his little brother succeed. "Eli and I worked out together yesterday; we threw, we ran. We're constantly trying to help each other. 'Watch your footwork here.' 'You were kind of late on this throw.' We still have the same profession and we want to help each other in that profession. But there's no question that the last few times we've been together, we don't talk much about our personnel, or our schemes -- we've both tight-lipped up a little bit. That's out of respect to our teammates, our coaches. "The thing about this game is Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey don't care that their quarterback's brother is the quarterback of the other team, just like Freeney and Mathis and Marvin don't really care that my brother's the quarterback of the other team." Peyton recalled one summer when he returned from Tennessee to find his little brother almost looking him in the eye, height-wise. They headed out to play some basketball. "That two-block rule went right out the window," he said. He didn't say who won. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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