Manning role reversal: As questions dog Peyton, Eli has all the answers

by | CBSSports.com
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Peyton and Eli Manning share a laugh but are in decidedly different spots career-wise. (US Presswire)  
Peyton and Eli Manning share a laugh but are in decidedly different spots career-wise. (US Presswire)  

THIBODAUX, La. -- Peyton Manning, the underdog. Eli Manning, the alpha dog.

No, you're not in another dimension. You're in today's reality.

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A reality not many people ever imagined. Peyton has always been the headliner, and Eli the undercard. But numerous neck surgeries later for Peyton and a second Lombardi Trophy for Eli last season, and the perception of the Manning brothers has been flipped upside down.

Eli is the proven one. Peyton now has something to prove.

This weekend at the annual Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State, both quarterbacks downplayed the polar-opposite routes their careers took in the past year.

When asked whether he has something to prove to himself, Peyton responded quickly and simply, "No." Eli dismissed the role-reversal notion as well.

"Peyton's a four-time MVP and a Super Bowl champion," Eli said. "He's coming off an injury, but he's going to be ready to play. I've got to worry about getting my team ready."

Leave it to the Manning clan's elder statesman to call it like everyone else sees it.

"2012 [was] so much fun for the Giants, to win another Super Bowl," Archie Manning said. "But then for Peyton -- we look at the plusses, the fact he worked so hard and got himself back healthy. The Indy thing was tough. It was tough on everybody, tough on him, tough on our family, I think tough for some people in Indy. But it happens, so I was very proud of the way he handled it, and then he had to turn around and find a new team and that was hard.

"I think he went with his heart there and he made a great decision. He had to go to work and it was a big transition for him. ... The bottom line is obviously he wants to play some more football and we hope he can."

Peyton said he's still absorbing the fact that he's a Denver Bronco. He's also stopped giving percentages on his health, which may mean he's not 100 percent healthy yet after missing all of the 2011 season in Indianapolis.

When Eli was asked if there was any doubt that Peyton would return, his response was ambivalent: "I knew he would give complete effort to get back. He wanted to play football again."

Doubt and Peyton Manning never were synonymous before last season. But then, neither were injury and Peyton.

"There's no question there's been a big change and a big switch," Peyton said. "I'm trying to adjust. There's constantly something to learn. New players, new teammates, new coaches, new surroundings. When you're at 14 years in one place, you do kind of become institutionalized. It has been an adjustment. Everybody keeps asking, 'Are you settled yet, are you settled yet?' I don't think anybody can get settled in a couple of months. It takes some time and I'm embracing the challenge.

"When you're injured, it's not fun. You're kind of quarantined. It's like the kids get to go out and play at recess and you have to stay in the training room. It's nice to be able kind of get the reins cut off, being able to participate in OTAs, minicamp."

At last year's Manning Passing Academy, former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said it was already fair to compare Peyton and Andrew Luck. The Colts thought so too as they cut ties with Peyton and drafted Luck, a former Manning Academy camper and camp counselor.

Peyton didn't find the humor in one of his pupils taking his former gig.

"Yeah, I don't find that ironic. ... I think Luck will have a great career," Peyton said.

Again, leave it to Archie to find the lighter side of things.

"We brought Andrew along too well," Archie said with a laugh. "He's a great kid. We take that as pride that Andrew would come here for two years. Brandon Weeden was here for two years -- and those guys get drafted."

Meanwhile, Eli is coming off his best season with the Giants, passing for 4,933 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He improved on that once the postseason arrived, as his completion percentage increased from 61 percent to 65 percent and his TD-to-INT ratio improved dramatically with nine TDs and only one pick. And once again, New York won three road playoff games and beat the Patriots to earn Eli his second Super Bowl win.

But remember the Giants only went 9-7 last year and the NFC's depth seems to have improved in the offseason. New York also lost Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard. So taking a 3-1 Super Bowl lead over Peyton will be challenging in 2012.

"Our goal is to get better," Eli said. "You don't start thinking about championships right now. You start thinking about improving as a team and visualize becoming a better quarterback. We've got some young guys and we've lost some guys. We've got a new team."

Peyton's saga will be one of the most chronicled storylines of the season. Can he regain his dominance? Will his neck and throwing arm hold up?

For once, Peyton has all the question marks. And Eli? He's answered all of the questions.

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