THIBODAUX, La. — Even for the Manning brothers, this offseason has been extraordinary, from Eli basking in a second Super Bowl triumph to Peyton’s comeback in a new uniform.
They’re getting some family time this weekend at their annual football camp in their native Louisiana. For Eli and father Archie, it’s been gratifying to see Peyton throwing again, something he could not do at the Manning Passing Academy a year ago while recovering from neck surgery that sidelined him for all of 2011.
Peyton gave a terse “No,” when asked if he has something to prove as he comes back from injury with the Denver Broncos after being replaced by Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, where Peyton spent the first 14 years of his pro career. He did, however, have plenty to say about how happy he is that his rehabilitation is at the point where he feels like an NFL quarterback again.
“It has been exciting for me to be back on the field,” Peyton said. “When you’re injured, it’s not fun. You’re kind of quarantined. It’s nice to be able kind of get the reins cut off, being able to participate OTAs [organized team activities], minicamp.”
Peyton said he still has more rehabilitation ahead and has “stopped giving percentages” regarding how healthy he is, but his goal remains to participate fully in training camp, preseason and the regular season.
Eli, meanwhile, smiles at the sight of his older brother back on the field, actively running high school-age campers through drills along with the college quarterbacks who serve as counselors.
“I’ve seen him play football since I was 7 years old, so the last 25 years he’s been a great role model and someone to follow — his work ethic and how he handles himself and how he plays the game at such a high level,” Eli said. “I’m excited to see him back in uniform, see him back playing. Obviously he went through a tough year last year.”
For the second time since 2008, Eli Manning has been making the rounds as a Super Bowl champion — the parade in New York, the ring ceremony, the talk shows, a White House visit and more.
One thing Eli has not done, at least not in the form of anything more than good-natured ribbing, is emphasize the fact that he has two Super Bowl rings over Peyton’s one. Eli still seems genuinely uncomfortable with the idea that he may now be the better of the brother QBs.
“Peyton is a four-time MVP, a Super Bowl champion,” Eli said. “He’s coming off an injury, but he’s going to be ready to play. … We’re both looking forward to a great season ahead of us.”
For Peyton, rehabbing is one issue. Adjusting to a new team is another.
“There’s no question it’s been a big change, a big switch. It’s one I’m trying to adjust to,” Peyton said. “There’s constantly something to learn, something to adjust to, new players, new teammates, new coaches, new surroundings. So when you’re 14 years in one place, you do kind of become institutionalized. … Everybody keeps saying, ‘Are you settled yet?’ … I don’t think anybody can get settled in a couple of months. So it’ll take some time but I’m embracing the challenge and looking forward to getting to know my teammates more and more.”
Former Saints quarterback Archie Manning started the family football camp 17 years ago, and he now hosts it on the campus of Nicholls State along with his two Super Bowl-winning sons and his oldest son Cooper.
Elite college quarterbacks now come every year to serve as counselors. This year Southern California’s Matt Barkley is among them. Last year, it was Luck, who was drafted first overall by the Colts and now is in the difficult position of replacing Peyton in Indianapolis.
“We brought Andrew along too well,” Archie joked, then added that the Mannings take a lot of pride in their former counselors’ success. “These are great kids.”
By now, Archie has gotten used to seeing Peyton and Eli continue to be two of the highest-profile figures in pro football. Still, this year has been different.
It was “so much fun for the Giants to win another Super Bowl and for Peyton to — we look at the plusses, the fact he worked so hard and got himself back healthy,” Archie said. “The Indy thing was tough, tough on everybody, tough on him, tough on our family, I think tough for some people in Indy. It happens, so I was very proud of the way he handled it, and he had to turn around and find a new team and that was hard.”
“He went with his heart there and he made a great decision,” Archie added. “The bottom line is obviously he wants to play some more football and we hope he can.”
As a father, Archie said he cannot help but worry about Peyton playing again, but stressed he is confident his middle son’s decision to come back is a sensible one.
“You’re always concerned, but he had three or four of the best doctors in the country, neurosurgeons who told him his neck is solid and gave him permission to play. So as a parent you go by that,” Archie said. “Whether they’ve got a good neck or bad neck, it’s tough out there, so you hope all of them can stay healthy.”