|Andrew Mills/US Presswire|
|Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrated his second Super Bowl victory with his wife, Abby, and daughter, Ava.|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Enveloped by chaos for most of the night, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning escaped the pocket for a few brief seconds Sunday, sneaking away from a bulk of the cameras to pull his 11-month-old daughter, Ava, into his arms.
A red bow in her hair and footballs on her dress, Ava was chewing on the keys to the new black Corvette just given to her daddy for being named the Most Valuable Player of a 21-17 win against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
"You got a new car, huh?" smiled Manning, tucked into a small hallway at Lucas Oil Stadium less than an hour after the game's end. "Nice!"
In every moment -- from his 88-yard, game-winning touchdown drive to his execution of the "I'm going to Disney World" moment to his easy-going attitude as he was whisked from one interview to another -- Manning was so cool. So calm. So clearly comfortable in this Super situation that it was obvious he's been here before.
And after this night, it's not very difficult to envision him here again.
"It's a routine I could get used to," said Cooper Manning, the oldest of the Manning brothers, waiting outside the Giants' locker room. "We don't mind this routine one bit."
A season that began with criticism of Manning's self-prescribed assertion that he is an "elite" quarterback now concludes with a confetti-covered celebration and a clear understanding that New York's champion was absolutely correct. Not only did Manning prove it, he did so in a manner as nonchalant as anyone could imagine.
Before Sunday, only two other active quarterbacks had won multiple Super Bowl rings: Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Manning not only joined that list, but also did it at Brady's expense in the Indianapolis stadium built by his brother, Peyton. If that isn't poetic enough to shed light on his place in QB lore, perhaps the way he did it will instead do the trick.
It was far from the safe play, far from even being a recommendable attempt. You didn't think that would stop Manning, did you?
"It was a perfect throw," Manningham said. "Eli just put the ball on the money. I knew where I was on the sideline. I knew I didn't have that much room. Good thing I wear size 11 shoes, because if I wore 11-and-a-halfs, I don't think I'd have been in."
Eight plays later, during a span that included two more MVP-caliber throws, Manning's Giants found the end zone. But as has always been the case with Manning, it wasn't only the daring throws that made his performance special. It was that casual, stress-free demeanor.
Consider his presence in the huddle before that final drive and that critical first completion.
"He didn't say anything," Manningham said. "He just said the play. We knew what it was going to come down to. We've been in that situation all year. We've been in that situation. It's just the Super Bowl now."
It is these moments -- this obvious ability to perform in such critical situations -- that is quickly vaulting Manning's name into a higher class. Get this: He now has led the Giants on 25 game-winning drives. Two of them led to a Lombardi Trophy.
On the biggest stages, Manning has been as impressive as Brady (when he won three Super Bowls in four years) and better than Peyton. And so as we begin to ponder his legacy, even if it is far from fully solidified, we undoubtedly will now always start with the way he concluded his two Super Bowl seasons.
"We won two Super Bowls in the last five years, and he wins MVP both times," Coughlin said. "And he should be the MVP for that last drive. He deserves all the credit in the world because he really put the team on his shoulders this whole year. We've had this goal of finish, finish, finish -- win the fourth quarter. And he's done it."
At 31, Manning is far from finished. And with the way he handled himself in Sunday's game, it's far from a stretch to think the confidence he gained from this experience will fuel his progress even more. Heck, in some ways, after a season like this one, it feels like he's just getting started.
In the wake of this successful performance, the Giants' quarterback has successfully surged himself into the conversation about whether we need to start referring to him as "future Hall of Fame quarterback Eli Manning."
Either way, we can most certainly settle for elite.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington