Peyton Manning, Eli's older brother who will undoubtedly be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021 (his first year of eligibility), was asked to weigh in on the Eli-Hall of Fame debate during an interview with the Broncos' website.
"To me, it's the time to look back and reflect. Everybody else wants to look ahead and have this debate. And I understand, that's just the world we live in. I know Eli doesn't think like that, and I don't think like that either. But I certainly have my strong feelings and opinions on it. When you're the Super Bowl MVP twice against the greatest dynasty of all-time, the New England Patriots, Tom Brady/Bill Belichick, and you join a list that includes Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Tom Brady and Joe Montana, Eli Manning as the only (multiple) Super Bowl MVPs.
"I don't really know what that term, 'drop the mic' is, but I guess if there was one. ... There really is no 'yeah, but' after that. That kind of ends it. But if you want a, 'yeah, but,' yeah, but he also started 220-plus consecutive games. He's sixth or seventh all-time in touchdowns. It wasn't like he just played those two seasons.
"He answered the bell, played his butt off, won some huge games for his team. I have strong opinions on it, but I'm gonna pull and Eli and live in the present and kinda look back if you will and not look too far ahead, get too worried about it."
Peyton, who said that he has watched Eli play in person "about three times a year" following his retirement after the 2015 season, also added that he feels fortunate to have had such an up-close view of his little brother's career. He said that there were two situations early in Eli's NFL career that convinced Peyton that his brother would be OK at the next level.
"I can remember his private workout for the Giants and the NFL," Peyton said. "It was down in New Orleans, and this other quarterback kinda piggy-backed Eli's workout in order to have more scouts looking at him. Literally, Eli is making his last throw and the other guy is already out there starting his workout. It was the kinda thing that would have driven me crazy, but Eli, classy Eli, didn't bother him one bit. He's like, 'What's the big deal?' It was just a great indicator of how calm, cool and collected he was and how that helped him handle being the first pick of the draft by the New York Football Giants and handling all that comes with that.
"I can remember the draft, back in 2004," Peyton continued. "I was there. Talk about some nervous moments for me, as his brother, [and] my parents. The Chargers take him; what are the Giants gonna do? Eli is just as calm, and is cool and in control just like he was in those two minutes drills when to beat the Patriots in Super Bowls.
"To me, as his brother, I got to witness a lot of things early that told me that he was gonna be able to handle New York. It certainly wasn't easy. At the beginning, there was rough patches but he handled it. Eli never got too high, never got too low. Told me he never watched the news or read the papers. Those things can affect a guy, high or low, [but] Eli stayed pretty even keeled."
When looking back on his brother's career, Peyton marveled at Eli and the Giants' improbable Super Bowl runs during the 2007 and 2011 postseasons. And while Peyton said that the Giants' win at Lambeau Field in the '07 NFC Championship Game is among that team's most underrated accomplishments, he said that the Giants' next win, a 17-14 upset win over the previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, continues to amaze him.
"They were the real deal," Manning said of the 2007 Patriots, who defeated his Colts [the defending Super Bowl champions] during the regular season. "They had it all, and you talk about playing against this monster. You got Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. ... They had all these other great players, this supporting cast. He was so in control the whole game, and then, the famous escape play, which, the word unbelievable is overused, but it truly was unbelievable how he got out of there."
Along with Eli's improbable completion to David Tyree, Peyton said that Manning's game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress moments later was just as impressive.
"The play is all for naught if Eli doesn't complete the touchdown pass to Burress a play later," Payton said. "Eli finished the job. He followed through. The fact they were even in that game was amazing."
Peyton, who celebrated with Eli inside the Giants' locker room after their historic victory, called that game his greatest Super Bowl memory.
"I got to play in four Super Bowls," Peyton said. "I got to be on the winning side of two. And I think people don't really believe me when I say that my favorite Super Bowl memory was watching my little brother take the New York Giants down the field in the two minute drill and beat the undefeated Patriots and all that came with that. Maybe I wasn't as happy as the '72 Dolphins ... but I was pretty close.
"He did it. There's that famous Bill Parcells quote after he tells their team: 'Don't let anybody ever tell you that you couldn't do it because you did it.' He did it, and he did it the right way for a long time."
Manning was almost as impressed by the Giants' second Super Bowl run in 2011, a run that included a hard-fought victory over the favored 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
"I was at the game in San Francisco for the NFC championship," Peyton recalled. "Talk about [it being] hard to watch your bother basically get pulverized by the 49ers' front. This is back before they were calling the drive rule. The Smith brothers, Aldon and Justin, were just taking turns [hitting him]. He kept getting up, throws a couple of touchdowns, they win the game, and now they have to play the Patriots again. Everybody says, 'There's no way they can beat them again. Last time, it was a luck deal.' And he goes and simply does it again in the same fashion."
Peyton said that one of his favorite memories from his own career took place before the start of his three games against Eli's Giants. While he said that the two did not necessarily enjoy playing against one another, Peyton, during the playing of the national anthem, did take time to appreciate the significance of those matchups.
"He and I are on the exact same yard line, 50 yards across from each other," Peyton recalled. "I remember just kinda taking a moment thinking, 'This is kinda cool. That's my little brother over there. We're about to play in front of 85,000 (fans) and we're on the same yard line, singing the national anthem.' That's a memory that I'll always have with me."
While Eli's statistical numbers speak for themselves, Peyton said that his brother possessed intangible skills that helped make him a quality NFL starting quarterback.
"He was even more clutch and even more calm in the biggest of games," Peyton said. "I keep going back to just how he started out his career with that private workout and the drive and how it served him well.
"His teammates believed in him; that really served him well as a leader. His toughness. I can remember he had a foot injury and a shoulder injury that he never talked about; he didn't anybody about, but I could tell it was bad. And most guys aren't playing, and he simply goes out there and just plays."
"Starting 200-plus consecutive games, answering the bell for his teammates, that's what toughness is. As his brother, I have such admiration and love for him, but as a quarterback, I have incredible respect for his toughness, his accountability, his leadership skills."
Peyton said that he also enjoyed watching his bother develop into a "New York/New Jersey Guy," lauding Eli's work in the community throughout his time in the Big Apple. Peyton added that he is happy to see his brother retire as a Giant and not as a member of another franchise.
"I know Eli loved playing quarterback, but I think more than that, he loved playing quarterback for the New York Giants. To play just for one team the entire career; that's what every quarterback, I think, aspires to do. For me, I got injured early and the Colts were gonna move on and I had to go find a new place to play. Sixteen years with the New York Giants, that's what Eli wanted to do. He's starting and stopping with the team was supposed to be with, and it's been a heck of a run during that time."
While he said that he will look forward to spending more time with Eli during the fall, he said that he will miss watching his younger brother play football.
"I'm happy for Eli because I know he's at peace and he put a lot of time and thought into this decision, but I am sad because I won't get to see him play anymore," Peyton said. "After my dad and Dan Marino, Eli really was my favorite player. And so I'll have to find a new one. But for really 19 years, going back to his there years at Ole Miss, 16 years in the NFL, I have enjoyed watching him play, watching him compete, watching him grow into a man. It was a heck of a run."