Eli Manning made a discovery in the 2011 season that every NFL player craves: Winning a second Super Bowl can be significantly different than the first, but the euphoric feeling of holding the Lombardi Trophy is exactly the same.
Manning was one of 16 Giants to win a second championship in five seasons when the Giants defeated the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. To further extend the symmetry, Manning was voted the winner of the Pete Rozelle Trophy, awarded to the game's Most Valuable Player, for the second time.
"It's definitely special the second time," Manning said. "I think the first time it was all brand new. We came out of nowhere. (I) really hadn't proven myself as being as good a quarterback as I wanted to be. I knew I had a lot of improvements to make. This one, I thought I played better overall all season, played more consistently, played well throughout the playoffs. I was pleased with how we dealt with everything all season. We had young receivers who hadn't really proven a lot and got them to step up, new tight ends and in the Super Bowl losing two tight ends (Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard) and not worrying about it.
"The second one you're thinking about the guys who are getting their first Super Bowl - you think of Hakeem Nicks and Antrel Rolle and Rocky Bernard, people who have been playing a long time who never had that opportunity and the emotions that they must be going through with that first one. I was thinking about my first one and you realize you're world champions and all the different things that are going through your mind. So it was an exciting time for myself and those guys that are going through it for the first time, what that feeling is, and smiling for them."
The Giants' 2011 title was unique both in their history and in the NFL's. After all, the Giants were not a regular season powerhouse. They finished 9-7 and didn't clinch the NFC East title – and a postseason berth – until the season's final night. Five weeks later, they became the first seven–loss team to win a Super Bowl. The Giants were also the first team to take home the Lombardi Trophy after finishing the season with a negative point differential (394-400), enduring a four-game losing streak and having the league's fewest rushing yards.
They overcame those shortcomings for many reasons, none more vital than Manning, who had the best statistical season ever by a Giants quarterback. He set Giants records for pass attempts (589), completions (359) and yards (4,933). The yardage total was the fourth-highest in the NFL in 2011 and the sixth-highest in league history. Manning's 29 touchdown passes were the second-highest total of his career (he had 31 in 2010) and his 16 interceptions were nine fewer than he threw the previous season. His passer rating of 92.9 was the second-highest of his career (he had a 93.1 rating in 2009).
In the Giants' four-game postseason, Manning completed 106 of 163 passes (.65 percent) for 1,219 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception.
Read those numbers and it's hard to fathom that the season began with Manning answering questions about whether he was an elite quarterback. He had said so in response when asked a direct query during a radio interview, sparking an unintended and unnecessary mini-controversy.
Photos from the career of two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning