As the eldest Manning brother, Peyton saw Eli grow up in stages. Along the way, he witnessed many indicators that his sibling would have the type of success that he ultimately did.
The one moment that convinced him was Eli's pro day workout for the Giants in their family's hometown of New Orleans leading up to the 2004 NFL Draft. Another quarterback "piggybacked" his younger brother's showcase, as Peyton put it, to siphon some attention from the scouts who had gathered to watch the holder of 47 Ole Miss passing records.
"Literally, Eli is making his last throw and the other guy is already out there starting his workout," said Peyton, courtesy of the Denver Broncos. "And it's the kind of thing that would have driven me crazy. But Eli, classy Eli, it didn't bother him one bit. He's like, 'What's the big deal? I got my workout.' It was just a great indicator of how calm, cool and collected he was and how that helped him handle being the first pick in the draft by the New York Football Giants and handling all that comes with that."
Eli handled that moment and the next 16 years the right way, including Friday's retirement ceremony at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. It was the first of three likely speeches a player of his caliber will make. There is the farewell press conference. Then comes the halftime jersey ceremony, which team president John Mara invited him to this upcoming season as he said no other Giant will again wear No. 10. After that, Canton will come calling.
"When you're the Super Bowl MVP twice against the greatest dynasty of all time, the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and you join a list that includes Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Eli Manning as the only [multiple] Super Bowl MVPs, I don't know what that term 'drop the mic' is," Peyton said. "But I guess if there was one – there really is no 'yeah, but…' after that. That kind of ends it. But if you want a 'yeah, but' – yeah, but he also started 220-plus consecutive games, he's seventh all-time in touchdowns, it wasn't like he just played those two seasons."
But, as Peyton said, last week was not the time to look ahead. It was a chance to reflect.
"I got to play in four Super Bowls," Peyton said. "I got to be on the winning side of two. And I think people don't really believe me or are surprised when [I say] that my favorite Super Bowl memory was watching my little brother take the New York Giants down the field in the two-minute drill and beat the undefeated Patriots and all that came with that. Maybe I wasn't as happy as the '72 Dolphins."
That Miami team, because of Eli and the Giants, remain the only undefeated championship team in NFL history. Peyton almost didn't attend the game because of superstition. Unlike Eli's high school and college days, there wasn't a good track record when Peyton showed up to watch his brother play at the NFL level.
"He's like, 'Peyton, I hate to burst your bubble but you don't have that much power to impact a game,'" Peyton recalled. "'It wasn't your fault that we didn't beat the Vikings. I want you to come to the Super Bowl.' I was like, OK, I'm relieved now. I can go.'"
And what he saw was one of the most famous drives in Super Bowl history. David Tyree highlighted it with the "Helmet Catch," but it is only remembered because Eli finished it with a game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. The miraculous play would all have been for naught if he didn't.
"Everybody else was hyperventilating because he got out of this mosh pit and he got the ball down there [to Tyree]," Peyton said. "But he, once again, calm, cool, collected, goes down and, 'Alright, now we've got to figure out what to do in the red zone. The Patriots like to blitz.' They make this great call and hits Plaxico for the winner. Now, everybody goes back to the play, but Eli finished the job. He followed through."
View photos of the first pair of brothers to play quarterback in a Super Bowl.
To get to that point, the Giants had to do what no other team had ever done before – beat the Packers at Lambeau Field with a conference championship on the line. Peyton, winless in two trips to Lambeau Field in his career, admitted that the mystique got to him. But not Eli.
"To me, I thought it was an intimidating place to play," Peyton said. "I thought you could feel Lombardi, you could feel Nitschke, and it was a tough place to play. And to go in there and win in an NFC Championship up there in those conditions, that game might have been even more impressive than the Super Bowl."
Four years later, the Giants did it again in the Divisional Round to set up the 2011 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.
"You talk about hard to watch your brother get basically pulverized by this 49ers front," Peyton said. "This is back before they were calling the 'drive' rule [to protect quarterbacks]. The Smith brothers, Aldon and Justin, were just taking turns. 'Hey, I'm bored with hitting him. You go hit him this time.' He kept getting up, kept getting up, throws a couple of clutch touchdowns. They win the game and now they've got to play the Patriots again. Everybody says, well, there's no way they can do it again. Last time it was a luck deal."
No luck. Just skill when Eli kick-started one of his 42 career game-winning drives with a 38-yard dime to Mario Manningham down the sideline.
Afterwards, like they had done so any times, Eli and Peyton broke down the Xs and Os of the game. Over the years, they talked game plans of upcoming opponents. If the Colts or Broncos played the Cowboys, for example, Peyton asked Eli what Dallas tended to do on third down. If the Giants played the Titans, Peyton would share what he liked to do against their blitzes.
"I miss those conversations," Peyton said. "I'm happy for Eli because I know he's at peace and he put a lot of time and thought into this decision [to retire]. But I am sad because I won't get to see him play anymore. After my dad and Dan Marino, Eli really was my favorite player. So I have to find a new one."
Perhaps Daniel Jones? After all, he wears No. 8 like Archie did in the NFL.
"The role that [Eli] played this past year kind of as a tutor, if you will, that will pay dividends," Peyton said. "You talk about a true Giant. That will pay dividends for the Giants for many years to come – helping Daniel Jones. You can't get that kind of experience having a veteran quarterback that's won two Super Bowls in your ear every day. I know I'll miss watching Eli. Daniel Jones will miss having Eli there in his ear."
As Jones has only scratched the surface on what is to come, we have now seen the totality of Eli's titanic career.
"He's a true New Yorker, New Jersey guy," Peyton said. "He lives there. He spends the summers there. He actually uses the word 'summers' – he 'summers' – I didn't know that was a verb. He used to be a southern kid from New Orleans, and now he's a true New York-New Jersey guy. My point is he went all in."