The Mancunion

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NFL: A tale of two Mannings

Ben Weich explores the careers of two modern day NFL greats

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The National Football League is as dynamic and ever-changing as any in world sport. In fact, it actively puts rules in place, from the salary cap to collective bargaining agreements, specifically designed to never let the dust settle. Unlike in other sports, most notably ‘soccer’, rigid hierarchies aren’t allowed to form, keeping the game exciting.

Despite this, some things never change. One enduring truth of American football is that the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, are never far from the forefront of fans’ minds.

One of the biggest talking points this off-season was Peyton Manning’s return to football. The man regarded by some as the game’s finest-ever quarterback missed the entire 2011 season through a neck injury. He spent 14 illustrious seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, in which he won a record four NFL Most Valuable Player awards and one Super Bowl, before the team released him in March. Looking to the future, the Colts decided to replace Peyton Manning with the best young quarterbacking prospect since…well, Peyton Manning.

Having been snapped up by the Denver Broncos, the elder Manning is playing with something to prove this season. Speculation is rife over whether he can still cut it at the highest level. Obviously, concern for the state of his neck perseveres and now at 36 years of age, questions about his ability to throw the ball with power have been raised.

After the season’s opening rounds, the truth is that we still don’t know what we’ll get from Peyton this year. He looked back to his best in the Broncos’ first game, an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, before sloppy, mistake-ridden losses in the following weeks. His arm-strength has looked a bit shaky at times – a couple of throws against the Atlanta Falcons floated weakly in the air before being intercepted by defenders. Combine this with the miscues involved with playing for a new team and Denver’s unforgiving fixture list, and Peyton’s season starts to look doomed before it’s even begun. Luckily, he’s competing in one of the league’s weakest divisions, so there’s hope yet of him making the playoffs for a 10th-straight time.

Brother Eli, five years Peyton’s junior, is playing like the one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Fans of the sport will know him as the man who led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory in February, their second in five years.

After an opening-day loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Eli has put together some strong performances, suggesting he’s found the missing piece to his game. He’s always performed well in big playoff games, but his critics point to a relative lack of success in the regular season. As we saw in the Super Bowl, when the pressure’s on he’s the best in the business, but unlike his brother, he’s never been what you would call ‘consistently good’. In his eight NFL seasons he’s been to just two Pro Bowls, the league’s annual All-Star game.

By virtue of being younger, Eli has always lived in Peyton’s shadow. Should he win an MVP award this season however, and he may just start to get first mention in articles like these.