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Eli keeps Super Bowl MVP award in family

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Move over, Peyton. Make room in the Manning family trophy case, Archie.

Baby boy Eli is coming home with hardware all his own -- a Super Bowl ring and an MVP trophy to place alongside the ones his big brother brought back only a year ago.

"I never thought about them even playing college ball, much less pro football, much less winning Super Bowls or MVPs," Archie Manning said. "It wasn't in the plan. We tried to raise kids just like other parents raised their kids. I can't explain it."

The youngest son of a great quarterback and the baby brother of an even better one came into his own Sunday night in the desert, proving cooler than the falling temperatures by leading the Giants 83 yards on a final scoring drive to stun the Patriots 17-14 and cap one of the greatest upsets in sports.

"That's a position you want to be in. You want to have the ball in your hands ... down, where you've got to score a touchdown," Manning said after accepting the MVP trophy from Terry Bradshaw, a pretty fair quarterback himself.

"I talked about it before with Peyton," Manning added a few moments later. "You want to be down four (points), where you have to score a touchdown. Because if you're down three, maybe we settle for the field goal."

Just a few weeks after fans and the media wanted to run Manning out of town, the kid will be crowned the king of New York. His stats won't bowl over people back in the Big Apple -- 19-of-34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- but the way he performed on that fateful final drive certainly will.

"I can't be happy for anybody else. This is a guy who took all that criticism," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "Well, you can't criticize the MVP. ... Making all those plays with his feet; it was a beautiful thing to watch."

Earlier in the week, Manning joked about being forced to play "permanent center," while middle brother Peyton was the quarterback and older brother Cooper played receiver in all those backyard games at the Manning home in New Orleans.

"I guess this means I've stepped up," Eli said. "Maybe I can be a receiver now."

"Better than that," Peyton said outside the Giants locker room. "I guess I'll have to let him throw a few now."

Considering how Eli performed on the final drive, he just might demand the lion's share. Starting from his own 17 with 2:39 left, Manning hooked up twice with Amani Toomer, the second leaving the Giants facing a fourth-and-inches. After Brandon Jacobs plowed his way to a first down up the middle, Manning showed some surprising footwork by escaping the New England rush and scrambling for five yards. Turns out that was just the prelude.

One play later, the Patriots threw another kitchen-sink blitz at Manning. Linebacker Adalius Thomas had Manning's shirt and tried to throw him to the ground. Instead, Manning ducked down and used the momentum to spin away, then set his feet and fired a high strike 32 yards down the field. Receiver David Tyree made a spectacular grab on the ball, pinning it against his helmet as he fell to the ground with New England safety Rodney Harrison draped across his shoulders.

"You try to get small sometimes and see if you can squeak through," the 6-foot-4 Manning said with typical understatement. "You just try find a hole to squeeze through and make a throw."

By comparison, the deciding touchdown throw to Plaxico Burress was routine. After finding Steve Smith in traffic in the middle of the field for 12 yards and another first down, Manning found Burress on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone and lofted a floater as the New York sideline exploded in celebration.

"He's always being compared to somebody, whether it's his dad or his brother or Phil Simms," said Giants center Shaun O'Hara, recalling Simms' 22-of-25 performance in the 1987 Super Bowl.

This one wasn't about precision, but grit.

"Tonight," O'Hara said, "I think Eli built himself a platform for others to be compared to him."

Heading out toward the team bus, Manning didn't seem interested in any comparisons. He has faced outsized expectations nearly his whole life, and he spent most of last week trying to soft-pedal comparisons to Patriots superstar Tom Brady.

Too often, Manning has played the game like it was a burden instead of a birthright. But as he headed into the night, he did so as only the second quarterback in Super Bowl history to throw two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a winning effort. The other guy to do it? Joe Montana.

But he'd already impressed the one guy he most wanted to.

"I guess we almost wore my dad out," Manning said. "He kept saying, 'Do you have to make things tough, everything in the last minute, just to keep it entertaining?' "

A wide smile creased the kids' lips.

"Well," Eli said, "that was entertaining all right."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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