Eight years into his pro career, Eli Manning can be defined in many ways: tough, studious, serious, unfailingly professional, even polite. A winner.
Funny and mischievous aren't on the list. Unless you talk to those close to the New York Giants quarterback. His teammates have maintained for years they see a playful side of him the public does not.
"It doesn't surprise me that people are kind of perplexed in trying to understand the gap of who Eli is in the locker room and what his teammates see compared to what you see in the media," said Cooper Manning, the oldest of the three brothers. "He's probably not in a big hurry to make the media think he's funny."
Well, all of that changes in a big way this weekend when the 31-year-old Manning hosts "Saturday Night Live," a comedic coming-out party for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
"For this night," Eli said, "you can kind of let loose."
Cooper, who has spoken to Eli during the week, said his brother has enjoyed rehearsals, reading scripts, meeting with cast members and writers.
"I've always thought Eli had a very fine appreciation for humor," Cooper said. "I think he'll give it his all and hopefully get a chuckle out of it."
Eli offered to give Cooper a preview of the show's contents. Cooper, who will watch from his Louisiana home, said no, he'd rather be surprised.
Parents Archie and Olivia Manning plan to be in the audience. (Peyton's whereabouts on Saturday night are less certain. Will Peyton be at the show? "I do not know," Cooper said. Is there a chance he makes a cameo? "I doubt it," Cooper added.)
So, is Eli nervous?
"No," Cooper said.
Does he feel pressure to entertain?
"No," Cooper said. Long pause. "I don't think Eli ever feels pressure, anyway."
The way SNL creator Lorne Michaels sees it, an athlete who excels on the playing field has the ability to succeed as host. The setting is far different, but one could argue the adrenaline rush compares.
"We know how Eli reacts both under pressure and also with changing things quickly," Michaels said. "The good part about athletes is that they're used to being in front of large groups of people and not knowing how it's going to turn out."
So, is Eli funny?
"I think he's both charming and radiates a certain kind of intelligence," Michaels said. "You sort of believe that he doesn't take himself that seriously. I mean, I think he takes his work very seriously, but there's a sort of essential modesty to him and I think that plays well with what we do."
"I'm blushing, Lorne," Eli interjected. "Thank you."
Other athletes, including Peyton Manning, have had their share of success -- and laugh lines -- in hosting SNL. Tom Brady, Charles Barkley and Derek Jeter are among those who have hosted in recent years.
Peyton's "United Way" skit, where he took an ultra-serious approach to a football game with kids, was a riot. Then a three-time Super Bowl champion in four years, Brady gloated and sang part of his monologue. Wearing a wig and makeup, Jeter played the wife of a Yankee.
Jeter, who has said for years that he roots for Eli and admires the way he conducts himself, said his only advice to Eli is to "enjoy" the experience.
Oh, and one more thing.
"Don't trip going down the stairs coming out" to the stage, Jeter said Thursday. "That's what worried me most."
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