Eli Manning leads New York Giants with calm and quiet resolve

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We know Eli Manning.

The pedigree. Peyton. The first overall draft pick, traded, on draft day, to the New York Giants. The early struggles and criticism. The two Super Bowl championships and accompanying MVP awards. Success as a commercial pitchman, the humor usually dry, sometimes unspoken.

The steel-nerved fourth-quarter comebacks. Oh, yes, those.

Did we mention the Super Bowls?

That is the Eli Manning we know.

To his teammates, it's even simpler.

To them, he's identified by a single letter: "E." And it doesn't get much more complicated than that when it comes to explaining -- or exploring -- who Eli Manning is in his own locker room, among the players who know him best.

"I think if you didn't know who he was, you might think he's, I don't know, maybe one of the staff here," said left guard Kevin Boothe. "He just blends in that easily."

Kicker Lawrence Tynes occupies the locker next to Manning's (which is noticeably spartan, not a family photo or toiletry item in sight). Ask Tynes to describe Manning, and he'll choose one word: Humble.

"You wouldn't know if he's an undrafted free agent or the first pick of the draft," Tynes said.

Receivers, in particular, say Manning is patient, regularly offering tips to those learning the complicated offense. He's available via text; tight end Martellus Bennett, a first-year Giant, said he messages his quarterback frequently, as early as 6 a.m.

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"He does text back," Bennett said. "Thank God."

Receiver Hakeem Nicks was sidelined from late May to mid-August with a broken foot. During that time, he watched countless hours of tape with Manning, talking through reads and routes.

"He wanted to make sure we were always on the same page," Nicks said.

Victor Cruz deeply appreciated that Manning invited him to play catch during last year's lockout. At the time, Cruz wasn't yet Cruz; he didn't have an NFL reception to his name.

"That meant a lot to me and my progression," said Cruz, who went on to grab 82 catches for a franchise-record 1,536 yards in 2011.

If Manning comes across as one of the guys, he is. Except, perhaps, in the weight room.

Right guard Chris Snee, a 2004 draft classmate, delights in painting a picture of linemen lifting dumbbells while a sleeveless Manning stretches rubber resistance bands.

"The cutoff shirt is completely unnecessary," Snee said. "Especially when he doesn't touch any actual iron."

Snee paused.

"I joke with him about it, but then, afterwards, I say, 'I don't want you to touch any weights. Keep doing what you're doing.' "

Manning laughs, saying that his relationship with his linemen involves "a special bonding" that includes busting, uh, chops. In other words, Manning is almost one of them.

"I think that 'average person' demeanor suits him well," Boothe said. "I think that's a great trait to have as a quarterback in this market."

(As he said the words "in this market," Boothe smiled a knowing smile. A Cornell graduate, he chose the phrase intentionally, it appeared, a subtle swipe at the team with whom the Giants share a stadium.)

So easygoing is Manning that teammates cannot remember him so much as raising his voice at them.

Not at a receiver who runs an incorrect route. He'll tell you you're wrong, Nicks said, "but he'll do it in a respectful way."

Not at a lineman who allows a sack.

"He probably knows who's to blame," Snee said. "But he's never singled anyone out or yelled at anyone in the huddle."

Manning almost shrugged when asked about his demeanor, saying, "I never try to get on people. I just try to talk to them and give them opportunities to make plays for us."

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Manning made plays about as well as anyone in the NFL last season. He threw 15 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, an NFL record. He further cemented his reputation as a clutch performer by directing seven fourth-quarter comebacks.

And he improved to 2-0 in Super Bowls against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

There are improvements to make, and Manning doesn't run from them. Over the past three seasons, he's led the NFL with 72 turnovers (55 interceptions, 17 fumbles).

"I know I need to throw less interceptions, find more completions, find a way to make more plays," he said. "I'm not worried about touchdowns or yards. As long as we're getting in the end zone somehow, that's what my job is."

Teammates said Manning's car is often one of the first in the players' parking lot every morning and among the last to leave. He is a leader, as much by example as by exclamation.

"(We) have a quarterback that's calm, resolved, who doesn't respond to all the negativity that may be surrounding the moment," Cruz said. "He always has positive things to say, no matter what the result of the game was. Win, lose or draw, he's always going to come out and put the team first.

"I think it definitely affects us. (We know) that he's a team player first, and we definitely respect that and we rally around it."

Manning is entering the prime of his career having already achieved what, for many, is the unreachable goal of multiple championships. He admits to fighting complacency. But frankly, it doesn't sound like much of a fight.

"Every day, we do something that he's done maybe 100 times, and he tries to get something else out of it," quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said. "He's one of the most coachable guys that I've ever been around at any level."

Tom Coughlin and Manning, who joined the Giants together in 2004, speak every day, with some conversations going longer than others. The coach admires his quarterback's "burning desire to be the best that he can possibly be."

Coughlin will talk at length when asked about Manning's intangibles, noting his ability to lead, to inspire, to continue to grow. The list goes on.

But Coughlin does not always have to be so expansive. A few days before Wednesday night's NFL Kickoff game between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys, Coughlin was asked if he has any doubt that Manning is the best quarterback in the NFC East.

Coughlin replied with a one-syllable word. "No."

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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