Manning keeps fun in football

Eli Manning true to self as reputation talent grow in NFL

It’s around 5 p.m. on Thursday before the Giants host the Redskins on Sunday and Eli Manning is tired. He sports a soft cashmere pullover he says he wore to look nice for the interview held at the team’s practice facility and then points out the contrast of his 5 o’clock shadow along with the mussed state of his hair and laughs a little at himself.

Nobody’s pointing at Manning these days and saying Eli lacks something. He’s not an elite quarterback is he? Sure he’s won a Super Bowl and toted off the MVP for Pete’s sake but ...

There’s always a but.

News flash: Eight years in, Eli’s playing like a grown man’s quarterback. He plays like he knows what he knows. And he’ll tell you what’s up in a New York minute. That’s why in those miracle comebacks, he doesn’t go all wobbly, man.

“There’s no pressure,” he tells me as part of our feature on the Giants for Fox NFL Sunday.

“You’re thinking, all right, what are my reads here? What are they doing? How are we going to pick up this blitz? You’re just reacting. You’ve been in these situations before. You’re playing football.”

And football is supposed to be fun, he adds.

I don’t know Tom Brady well at all, but the Patriots seem to treat football like fun is for the dead people. It’s certainly not meant to be joyous in the midst of an actual contest. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees smile and laugh, so I know they’re capable of having a grand ol’ time.

I bring up that particular class of quarterback for the obvious reasons -- the whole elite quarterback debate and if Eli should be a card-carrying member. It’s a curious subject to me and one that Eli is not interested in dwelling on at this stage of the game. He swats away my half-hearted attempt to start a conversation about it with “my goal every year is to win games, make the playoffs and try to make a championship run.”

Brandon Jacobs will go all apoplectic on you at the slightest slight of his quarterback or his team. While we wait for the cameras to roll, he talks about his work day just beginning. He’s about to go home to his real job, which is dad to a 1- and 4-year-old. I ask about the evolution of Eli, someone Jacobs is eager to praise, no matter how effusive.

“Let’s just put this aside right now that he’s a good dude and he’s my quarterback.”

Okay.

“He’s grown so much. I think one day (soon), someone should tell him that he should be in the argument to be the best quarterback in the National Football League. He’s done things.”

Jacobs amends that statement without being prompted two sentences later.

“He is one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League, if not the top two or three.”

Okay.

I really don’t do numbers well. I fumble them badly.

I wanted to joke with Jason Pierre-Paul about how dramatic his second-year sack totals jumped (12.5 so far) over Michael Strahan’s second-year numbers (4.5). That was left out of the pre-game feature piece.

Same with Eli ... I couldn’t get the order right. Brees, Rodgers, Eli and Brady. I was going for league leaders in passing yards. It’s Brees, Brady, Rodgers and Eli.

What floats my boat about Eli is the human stuff. He was very open about discussing how he stays true to himself more than I’ve ever seen or heard him. His longest response was not to a question about football, it was to a question I asked him about his refusal to alter his personality, his demeanor.

“My dad (former NFL quarterback Archie Manning) told me when I went off to college and when I came to the NFL, that the reason I’ve had success is because I’ve stayed the same.

“When you start to do that (alter his personality), is when people notice it’s phony,” Manning said.

“They’ve shown footage of me on the sideline and I’m kind of sitting there with not much expression on my face, but I’m not thinking, 'I’ve got to put on a smile,' I’ll growl a little bit here for the camera just so it makes me look like I’m really upset or I’m really happy at the situation.’’

Manning has bigger things on his mind.

“I’m just trying to think, what we need to do to get the win.”

Nice and easy. Eli-like.

No pressure. For real.

For Pam’s complete interview with Eli Manning and the Giants, tune in Sunday to NFL on FOX for America’s No. 1 pregame show at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT.

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