There's this little gathering of football folks planned for early February in New Orleans. The Super Bowl.
And there are these two guys from the Big Easy, Peyton and Eli, who just might find their way into that game with the way they're playing.
A Manning Mardi Gras isn't farfetched at all.
"I mean, obviously, every year being in two different conferences, it's always a possibility," Peyton Manning says. "You know, we pull hard for each other. Nobody pulls harder for Eli than I do and he's always been very supportive of me."
In his comeback season from neck surgeries that sidelined the seemingly indestructible Peyton for all of 2011 — he had never missed a game with Indianapolis (227 in all) since being selected first in the 1998 draft — he has begun to resemble the four-time league MVP and 2006 NFL champion. Now with Denver after the Colts let him walk as a free agent, he leads the league in passing, was the AFC offensive player of the month in October, and has the Broncos in first place, with a weak set of opponents ahead.
He is far ahead of what anyone could have projected less than halfway through his return season.
"It seems like he is playing well," says younger brother Eli, 31, whose Giants (6-2) are runaway leaders of the NFC East. "I haven't been able to watch the last couple of games, but just watching the games, talking to him and seeing some of the highlights, he is making some big-time throws. And it seems he has that offense where it needs to be, everybody in tune, he has a good sense of it. So it seems like they are playing really good football and I am excited for him."
Excited enough for Peyton and himself to predict a Super Bowl faceoff?
"Not really," Eli says with something of a shrug. "It's only Week 8, Week 9."
Despite the five-year difference in age, there has always been a strong connection between Peyton and Eli. (Older brother Cooper was a wide receiver for one year at Mississippi before injuries ended his career.) Indeed, Eli vividly recalls some of the "fun" times of his childhood.
"It's great to have big brothers," Eli says. "I have always gotten along well with Cooper and Peyton, even though they are a bit older than me. I always thought they enjoyed being around me, they were baby-sitting me a lot of times. Then I found out they had been grounded and that's why they had to baby-sit me."
Peyton says he and Eli generally speak twice a week during the season, and this year has an added twist: Both the Broncos and Giants are playing the AFC North and NFC South. So beyond family chats, they break down the games they just played on a Sunday night or Monday, then talk about upcoming opponents on Thursday or Friday.
"So, we've been resources for each other," Peyton says. "And certainly I pull hard for him and keep up with him and we encourage each other.
"Yeah, it's fun having someone that you're really close to have the same job as you."
In some ways, Eli has performed that job better than Peyton, even if Peyton is considered a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. Who has more Super Bowl rings? Eli 2, Peyton 1.
Sure, they are the sons of Archie Manning, a Hall of Fame college QB himself, but comparing their resumes, as natural as it might seem for outsiders, is unfair. They've played in different organizations with different philosophies. Their supporting casts have been dissimilar.
Bill Polian, who as president of the Colts drafted Peyton and is considered one of the top personnel men in NFL history, also could have predicted success for Eli because of his pedigree.
"If Peyton's name was Jones and Eli's was Smith, you would have many more comparisons than you do," Polian says. "They approach the game in similar fashion, they physically resemble one another. Their releases are almost identical in terms of quickness, which is a function of processing information. Both make every throw and their accuracy is unparalleled. There are very many similarities."
Perhaps most significant of all the Manning traits is their ability to lead. Teammates will talk forever about how the Mannings strive for perfection all the time, be it on the field or in meeting rooms. Heck, Peyton and Eli frequently talk about it themselves.
That sets a standard for everyone in a franchise, and everyone is expected by the Mannings to meet that standard.
"That is leadership," says Polian, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio says. "Because of what they can do, they provide hope 100 percent of the time. When that guy says we can get that done, everybody believes."
And when they believe, often they win. Not many could see the 2007 Giants knocking off the unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl, or doing it again earlier this year. Then Eli lifted them.
He keeps doing it as one of the great comeback quarterbacks in the game; every Giant is certain that Eli will provide the winning touch.
The Broncos are beginning to feel the same way about Peyton, who since he threw three interceptions in the first quarter of a loss to Atlanta has 15 TDs and one pick in 225 throws.
"That's one thing, accountability, work ethic," says receiver Brandon Stokley, a close friend of Peyton's who also played with him in Indy. "When guys see what he's doing and how much time and effort he's putting into it, they realize, 'Hey I need to do the same thing.'
"And you know for a receiver, if you're not paying attention to the little details and the little things, then you won't get the ball. But if you are, you realize he can do great things for you. And so I think that's why he just makes everybody around him better and play at a higher level."
Another key skill the Mannings possess that makes them stand out is what many observers says the defensive backs Peyton and Eli often embarrass must have: short memories.
Rich Gannon, who won the 2002 league MVP award and played 17 seasons in the NFL, thinks both Mannings are headed for Canton. He compares their composure to Joe Montana's.
"One thing that Montana was terrific at was don't worry about the past, always continue to focus on the next play and obstacle and situation," Gannon says. "Some players make a big mistake and are unable to recover. Maybe there's a drop or a sack or whatever and they let it bother them. That is not the case with Peyton or with Eli. They are not distracted. They stay in the moment."
The current moment is pretty good for both Mannings. Imagine what it would be like in early February together in New Orleans.
"It wouldn't be easy; it wasn't easy the two times they played (in regular-season games, both won by Peyton and the Colts)," Archie Manning says. "That would be amazing for the family."
Every football family should have such worries.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this story.
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