Giants quarterback Eli Manning leaves the crowd at the end of media day Tuesday carrying a blue foam hand he was given by a member of the media. Mike Fender / The Indianapolis Star
By CURT CAVIN
The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS -- New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle would go without a shirt to play in Saturday night's Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium. He'd prefer quarterback Eli Manning not do so.
A man's man throwing the football, Manning is everyman out of his jersey. Teammates joke about his physique, saying he doesn't look like a weight room regular.
But Manning's abs aren't their concern. His heart is, and one set of statistics bears that out.
Cutting his interceptions by nearly 40 percent this season, Peyton's little brother doubled the number of sacks he took. Longtime NFL analyst Pat Kirwan said that's a sign of a quarterback willing to give of himself for the betterment of the scoreboard.
"Last year with all the interceptions (25), there was the perception that he was just getting rid of the ball," the former New York Jets executive said. "But when you decide you're OK with taking the sack to not throw a pick, that's when you're thinking right."
That's part of the reason Manning, the MVP of Super Bowl XLII, is back for another try. It's backing up his preseason boast that he's in elite company with Tom Brady, the New England quarterback he'll be measured against in this epic rematch.
Manning, 2-1 lifetime against Brady, is on the lighter side as NFL quarterbacks go -- at 218 pounds, seven below Brady and 23 below Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Still, San Francisco's physical defense couldn't budge him off his game in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago.
Manning was sacked six times and hit 12 others, but he didn't throw an interception despite 58 passes. Critical to the 20-17 overtime victory was the fact he had multiple bruises but no turnovers.
"Didn't faze him," New England defensive end Vince Wilfork said of the pounding. "He kept getting up and kept firing. A sign of a warrior."
Signs abound this season. Despite a career-high 28 sacks, Manning's completion average exceeded 61 percent for the third consecutive season, and the 29 touchdowns he threw provided his second-highest total since being drafted No. 1 in 2004. He lowered his interceptions to 16.
Amid pressure from all angles, including an obsessive New York media, Manning threw for 4,933 yards, fourth in the league and 233 more than Peyton's best season. Ten of the 24 300-yard games in his career have come since Oct. 1, and his six fourth-quarter comeback drives have him on a Hall of Fame pace. He even rescued his team from a four-game losing streak.
"His best year as a pro," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
Manning hasn't just stood strong in the pocket, he has run against soft coverage more than ever. It has made him just enough of a dual threat, reminding Kirwan of former Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien.
"He's a guy who knows how to take a (hit)," Kirwan said of Manning. "His foot never is stuck in the ground, so you never see him getting hurt that way. But a lot of guys won't do that. They run out of the pocket or throw it away, and he's neither of those things.
"He'll stay in and stay in (the pocket). And I've never seen the guy play scared."
Or punish his linemen for mistakes. That's evidence of inner toughness, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
"He's the same positive influence on everybody around him," Coughlin said. "He doesn't get real upset and point the finger or want to know what the deal is with a sack, although I'm sure he knows."
Said Manning: "My job is to get us to the next play and not (complain) about the last one."
The Giants have no tougher dudes than Rolle and Tuck, and they stand in awe of No. 10.
"He takes some hits that you look at and you're like, 'Uh, I hope I get one on (the other quarterback) like that,' " Rolle said. "He's a tough guy, man. To get up, fire the football and lead our team like he did (in San Francisco) after taking some of the hits he took ... I mean, it makes it easier to rally behind him."
Manning isn't just a punching bag; he punches back. His 119 consecutive starts -- 129 including the playoffs -- are tops among active quarterbacks and third only to Brett Favre (297) and Peyton (208).
"He's a leader, man," Tuck said. "How much fight does he have and how tough is he? Shoot. Let's just put it this way: If he can handle and withstand what he did against (San Francisco's) front seven, you can't question his toughness."
The Indianapolis Star