INDIANAPOLIS — If the Colts were playing anybody else, Archie Manning would want to kick back in Lucas Oil Stadium and enjoy Sunday night’s game like every other fan.
Not this time.
With sons Peyton and Eli squaring off in Manning Bowl II, Archie and his wife, Olivia, plan to keep quiet as they watch their two boys. They’ve never had a favorite son and they’re not about to start choosing now.
“You can’t go in there pulling for one of them to win because it’s almost like pulling for the other one to lose,” Archie said. “We’re going to show up, we’re going to be there, we’re going to support the offense and make sure neither gets hurt and be proud and move on.”
To most of the football world, Peyton vs. Eli, The Rematch, is one of this season’s feature attractions. It pits two of the league’s top teams and best quarterbacks against one another, giving everyone an early season chance to see how they measure up.
Inside the family circle, it’s an emotional tug-of-war.
Barring a last-minute change of plans, Archie said his oldest son, Cooper, will keep the plan he made after attending Manning Bowl I in New Jersey. He’ll stay home and watch it on TV. Why? Because it wasn’t any fun.
Archie’s other two boys have no choice.
As the stars of the big show, the Manning boys have already scripted their reunion. They’ll talk briefly during warmups, shake hands during the coin toss, peer at one another during the National Anthem and, finally, play ball, on the big stage.
But the game is bound to have some strangely personal moments.
“I remember the last time looking across the field during the National Anthem and, coincidentally, we were standing on about the same yard line,” Peyton said. “It was kind of strange being in New York, looking across the field and seeing your brother, knowing he’s going to be the starting quarterback for the other team.”
The Mannings first meeting, Sept. 10, 2006, marked the first time in NFL history two brothers started the same game at quarterback. Peyton won that one, 26-21.
After Sunday night, the Colts and Giants won’t meet in the regular season again until 2014. After that, it would be 2018, but Peyton believes he won’t be around that long.
Fortunately for the brothers, things have been a little easier the second time around.
“It was the opening game of the year (last time) and it was almost five months of getting questions about it,” Eli said. “It’s one thing to get it for a couple of days, it’s another thing for five months.”
Timing isn’t the only major change.
Back in 2006, the most significant professional link the brothers shared was being a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Now both are considered elite NFL quarterbacks, own Super Bowl rings and Super Bowl MVP awards and are among the league’s highest-paid players.
Eli currently holds the upper hand in that category after signing a six-year, $97.5 million contract last summer. His average annual salary of $16.25 million is slightly more Peyton’s average of $14 million, which he received by signing a seven-year, $98 million deal in 2004.
But that distinction may not last much longer.
Peyton’s deal expires after this season, and Colts owner Jim Irsay has repeatedly promised to make the only four-time MVP in league history the NFL’s highest-paid player. Irsay believes quarterbacks like either Manning are worth every penny they get.
“Here in Indianapolis, we have our own feeling about Peyton and our preconceived prejudice toward what we think of him,” Irsay said. “But whether it’s (Tom) Brady or Eli or Philip Rivers, great quarterback play is critical and they’re all valuable.”
Meanwhile, within the Manning family, the sibling rivalry for best NFL quarterback doesn’t really exist.
Despite the current NBC ad for Sunday’s game, showing Eli shoving Peyton into a closet so he can’t play, the two have rarely competed against one another because of an age gap of nearly five years.
Peyton spent most of his younger years battling Cooper, not Eli, in football and basketball, and instead spent most of his time with Eli enjoying the role of big brother.
“Peyton was a great big brother, and I think he’s always taken pride in being an older brother,” Eli said. “Even when I was playing high school football, he’d come out there in the spring or summer and he wanted dad to film my practices so he could see my footwork. He’d say ‘Hey, this is what I’m being taught at Tennessee, so this is kind of what it’s like at the next level.’ He always looked out for me, even as I became a young quarterback in the NFL, and not just with football stuff, but life.”
If the Mannings had their way, this game wouldn’t even be about them.
Archie, Peyton and Eli have all tried to remind others that this game isn’t about the Mannings as it is the Colts (0-1) and the Giants (1-0).
Teammates would prefer it that way.
Eli said the Giants have teased him about Manning Bowl II, and Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney acknowledged Wednesday that he does get irritated with all the hype.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Obviously, there’s 53, or 52, other guys out there, playing the game and that gives the perception that there’s only two guys playing on the field when really it’s the Colts versus the Giants. But it’s always that way. It’s always Brett Favre against Drew Brees, or whatever, and as a defensive player you do feel like that. We’re not just out there like pawns for everyone else, but I understand why they do it.”
Strangely, enough, the defenses could have a major impact Sunday night.
The Colts want their Pro Bowl ends, Freeney and Robert Mathis, to gets more hits on Eli than New York’s Pro Bowl ends, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, get on Peyton.
Who has the advantage?
Well, the Colts banged-up offensive line gave up two sacks and nearly a dozen more hits last week at Houston, and even Peyton acknowledges his younger brother is more equipped to escape the pocket.
But this week will be different.
“Yeah, he (Peyton) has told us to get after the quarterback before, but I doubt he’ll tell us that this week,” Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. “I’m sure he wants to see us do well, but I’m not sure he wants us to rough up his brother.”
Dad doesn’t want to see that happen, either.
All Archie really wants is for this game to end with nobody hurt.
“Four years ago I thought we had the best of it. We wanted it to be a good game. It was. We wanted them to play well. They did. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt. They didn’t, and I don’t think we could ask for anything more,” Archie said.
“It’s just kind of hard to talk about it. We try to roll on with it and get through it and get ready for somebody else next week.”