KAPOLEI, Hawaii — Football’s best-known brothers don’t have a whole lot of time to simply hang out together because work always seems to get in the way.
During the season, they’re preparing for games and playing in them — Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts, Eli Manning with the New York Giants. Their offseason schedules also tend to be pretty jammed with workouts and other responsibilities.
In that regard, Sunday’s Pro Bowl has become a little bit more special for Peyton, the AFC’s starting quarterback, and younger brother Eli, a reserve quarterback for the NFC. And joining the first quarterbacking brothers in Pro Bowl history this week are their parents — Archie, their dad, also played in the Aloha State as a Pro Bowl QB.
Other than having dinner together a few nights, the Mannings aren’t following a formal social schedule between hour-long, walk-through practices this week. Most of the time, they’ll sit by the pool and enjoy the fact that this is one game to which everyone’s approach is fairly relaxed.
“This is great,” said Peyton, who’s making his ninth Pro Bowl appearance. “One thing about being over here in Hawaii is that you don’t have to work too hard to have a great time.”
“It’s fun,” said Eli, a first-time Pro Bowl player who hadn’t previously visited Honolulu with his brother or father. “It’s my first one, so I’m excited about the whole experience. That Peyton’s here makes it special, but just meeting a lot of other guys and having (six) other Giants here makes it fun, too. You play against these guys, you compete against them, but you never really get to see them off the field. Getting to throw to (Carolina Panthers wide receiver) Steve Smith is neat.”
The first bit of advice that Peyton gave his younger brother was to pack light: two pairs of shorts and some Hawaiian shirts would get him through the week.
Of course, when it comes to the Mannings — and especially Peyton — there’s always room to sprinkle a little bit of business on top of pleasure. That’s where big brother’s second bit of advice comes in: Pay close attention to the defensive scheme that the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff, which is guiding the NFC squad, employs for the game.
Peyton is doing the same with the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff, which is in charge of the AFC team. He’s fascinated by the complex blitz packages and coverages the Ravens use. And even though the man who designed them — former Baltimore defensive coordinator and current New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan — is no longer with the team, many of the concepts remain in place.
“I’m trying to slowly kind of pick away at the Ravens’ defense and seeing what I can learn about that,” Peyton said. “It’s a fun week, but you can get a little work done at the same time.”
Considering that the Eagles are one of the Giants’ biggest rivals, it only makes sense for Eli to pick up whatever he can that might prove useful during the two times the teams will meet in 2009 (and a possible third, such as when the Eagles beat the Giants in last month’s divisional-round playoff game). Of course, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid and his assistants understand as much and, like John Harbaugh and the rest of Baltimore’s coaches, will be careful not to give away too many strategic secrets.
But every little bit helps.
“Sure, I’ll try to get any tips I can get on the Eagles and their defense and what they’re doing,” Eli said. “I’ll try to sneak a few questions in there (but) not look too obvious. And this is my first time in another (NFL) offense and just trying to figure out how to run the plays and go out there Sunday and play pretty well.”
Peyton is preparing for a major change, with former Colts quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell taking over for retired Tony Dungy as the team’s head coach. In Peyton’s eyes, the transition is no less significant than it was when Dungy replaced Jim Mora at the Colts’ helm in 2002.
“Because even though Jim Caldwell’s been my quarterbacks coach, he’s the head coach now, and all players need to be ready for changes and to do things his way,” Peyton said. “I look forward to playing for him. We will miss Coach Dungy as a person, as a friend, just the winning atmosphere that he brought to Indianapolis. Hopefully, we’ll be able to retain that. And I think Coach Caldwell has been heavily influenced by Coach Dungy, but at the same time, there will be some things that will be done differently, and as a player, I’m looking forward to adjusting to those changes.”
Peyton also believes the Colts still have a strong foundation. Losing to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional playoff round was crushing, but the Colts’ 12-4 record offers plenty of encouragement that they can win a second Super Bowl title in four seasons the way the Pittsburgh Steelers just did.
“I still say you’d rather be knocking on the door and trying to crack through, and I feel like we were doing that this year, and we were close,” Peyton said. “You do have to start all over, but you do try to build on what we did last year. We still have a ton of young players. We have a new head coach, but we feel like we can get (back to the Super Bowl). Hopefully, we’ll get some players in free agency and the draft and be even better this year.
“That’s your job — to put the previous season behind you, whether you won it, like Pittsburgh, or you came up short — and go again next year.”
Eli is entering the final year of his contract with the Giants. Some media speculation said a new deal was imminent, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, whether they’re going to (extend) it or wait until next year,” Eli said. “I’m not all that concerned. I’m just trying to get ready to play next year and try to improve my skills and get better prepared to (help the Giants) have a great season next year.
“I see great things (ahead). I think we have a great core of players who want to be in New York, who work hard and are dedicated to the team. And I think that’s important. When you have good guys who you like being around, who you’re happy with and who play great football, then our future’s in good shape.”
A large question mark concerns the future of Eli’s best wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, whom the Giants suspended for the final four games of the 2008 season (plus the playoffs) and who faces charges and potential jail time for carrying an unlicensed gun on Nov. 28.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of months and what’s going to be his situation dealing with the law and what happens there,” Eli said. “Hopefully, we can get him back. He’s our teammate. He went through some tough times this year. We’ve stuck behind him, we support him, we’re hoping for the best in everything that happens and we want him back.”