By Ernie Palladino
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It is one thing for a family to become the stuff of football royalty. It’s quite another to write a seemingly unending storybook.
But that’s the thing with the Mannings. From the time the patriarch, Archie, started bringing Peyton to his own practices with the Saints, the storybook has always seemed part of their lives.
Sunday, of course, Peyton gets to write another chapter, probably the final one of his career, in Super Bowl 50. If he and his offense can do enough damage to one of the league’s top defenses, and if the Broncos’ own top-ranked defense can, in the words of linebacker Von Miller, “terrorize” Carolina’s Cam Newton into neutrality, then Archie’s oldest son can close the book with a happy ending. And that will leave brother Eli alone to finish his own story.
Neither is a Cinderella deal. That much should be understood. The brothers grew up privileged as far as football gifts go. The DNA from the union of Archie, a record-setter at Ole Miss and a Saints quarterback who deserved so much better than the losses and battering he took during a 15-year career, and Olivia, the school’s homecoming queen, made his offspring a virtual lock for athletic greatness.
His three sons — Cooper had his career as a promising wide receiver short-circuited by a neck injury — didn’t disappoint. Peyton went to Tennessee and went to Indianapolis as the top pick overall in 1998. Eli, of course, went No. 1 overall to San Diego in 2004 before Ernie Accorsi engineered the trade a few picks later that sent Philip Rivers westward and Eli into his historic Giants run.
So, it was obvious from the start that these guys were not destined to sweep the cinders from the fireplace. Noshing on white wine and cheese while others did the dirty work was more like it.
But there are different types of fairy tales. They don’t all go with the rags-to-riches thing. Sagas of overcoming the odds and great escapes also have their places among the childhood fables. Jack killed the giant, Beauty tamed The Beast.
So, too, with the Mannings.
Younger brother Eli didn’t go into Super Bowl XLII from nowhere. He had been in the playoffs before. He had mounted three comebacks in the regular season before taking his 10-6 squad on that magical playoff run, all on the road. And then he wrote the first chapter with his great escape, barely eluding the undefeated New England pass rush to launch the throw David Tyree pinned against his helmet 32 yards downfield. That set up Manning for the final 13-yard end zone pass to Plaxico Burress to complete his greatest comeback of all.
He would do it in Super Bowl XLVI, again against a heavily-favored New England squad. This time, it was a miracle throw to Mario Manningham amid a stunning 88-yard drive capped by Ahmad Bradshaw’s game-winning touchdown run.
Cinderella? No. More like The Little Engine That Could.
“I think I can. I think I can. I thought I could! I thought I could!”
Peyton, too. He went into Super Bowl XLI against the Bears as the Colts’ two-time league MVP who couldn’t win the big one. By the time he finished a 25-of-38, 247-yard, one-touchdown performance he had the Manning family’s first Super Bowl MVP award.
He failed in his two other Super Bowl appearances, most recently two years ago after a comeback from career-threatening neck surgery. He was defenseless in that 43-8 disaster against Seattle, throwing a pick-6 as the Broncos fell behind 36-0.
But a win Sunday would certainly provide an appropriate ending to a book that includes five league MVP awards and renown as the NFL’s greatest regular-season quarterback.
There are different types of storybooks, different types of endings. The Mannings have already authored quite a tale of extravagant gifts fulfilled.
With a little cooperation from his teammates, Peyton has the chance to end his own part of the saga the right way Sunday.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino