Manning era starts with smashing debut

When the 2004 season kicked off in Philadelphia, Eli Manning had no idea when his first playing time would come. The wait wasn't long at all. Manning came in to mop up the mess created primarily by New York's defense and its inability to tackle or cover anyone wearing green and white. <BR><BR>

With 2:37 left to play in Big Blue's lopsided season-opening loss, Manning was handed the reins. He showed right off the bat how good he is at handing off, placing the ball in Tiki Barber's breadbasket and watching as he ran the distance on a 72-yard TD.

"It makes it easy when you just hand the ball off to Tiki and he goes (72) yards," Manning said. In all, he completed three-of-nine passes for 66 yards, including two clutch tosses to move the sticks once the Giants had reached desperation mode.

After his first two attempts to Amani Toomer fell incomplete, Manning connected with Barber on a 34-yard catch-and-run that moved the chains on a third-and-10. He saved his best for crunch time again right afterward, spiking the ball to stop the clock, then misfiring on consecutive passes to Ike Hilliard. On fourth-and-10 from around midfield, Manning fired a laser to Tim Carter at the right sideline for a 29-yard gain. Manning was sacked on the game's final play at the Eagles 22-yard line.

Manning's initial effort will always be remembered for the crushing hit he absorbed from Eagles DE Jerome McDougle, who came from the side and absolutely leveled Manning, hitting him on the right shoulder and driving him into the turf.

"We (had) it wrapped up pretty good, and you don't want to hurt anybody," McDougle said afterward. "I tried not to hit him that hard – seriously – because he didn't see me."

"I'm fine. It was a good hit, a big lick," Manning said. "It was the biggest one I had taken and hopefully it'll be the biggest one I ever take. I don't want to experience that again."

The reaction from the cuddly Tom Coughlin: "Welcome to the NFL, son." Manning's older brother, Peyton, joined Eli on an ESPNews hookup last week. He was watching the Giants/Eagles game when he saw parts of his younger bro almost separated from the rest of his body.

"It was a heck of a hit," Peyton said. "I thought his career was over before it even started. I was proud of him for popping right up. I was proud he popped right up. It shows you he's a tough quarterback."

Also the top overall pick – in 1998 – Peyton's career started much differently from Eli's. He was thrown right to the wolves, suffering various bumps and bruises along the way to a 3-13 mark in his rookie campaign.

Some advice he's glad that his brother has followed to this point: be seen and not heard.

"I told him to work hard and try to show his teammates what he's about," Peyton said. "So many rookies come in with a lot of hoopla and expectations and they talk too much; they talk about what they're going to do. I've always thought it was best as a rookie – which is what I did – to say less and play more. Earn your teammates respect. Once you earn their respect, then you have that platform to be their leader. I think Eli's done that so far, which is a real credit to him."

Despite their exceptionally close relationship, the three Manning boys – including the oldest, Cooper – still had the expected tussles growing up.

"My older brother Cooper used to pick on me so I had to take some of the things that he taught me and share those with Eli," Peyton laughed. "He's getting bigger than me now; I certainly can't pick on him anymore."

"He used to pin me down and pick on me a little bit," Eli confirmed. "As I got older he's been very helpful in my learning process. He is a great brother. He had an older brother who picked on him so he needed someone to pick on also."

Peyton is especially proud of his younger brother since he's had pressure on his shoulders basically from the time he could walk.

"It was very tough on Eli," Peyton stated. "I always called it the triple comparison. First, to me, who was fresh out of the Southeastern Conference. To my father (Archie), who played there at Ole Miss, to my brother, Cooper, who was probably a social legend there at Ole Miss.

"There was always a lot of pressure on the young man, but I was very proud how he handled it. He just went about his business and worked very hard in school and on the football field. He's obviously made himself into a great football player. I'm looking forward to watching him play in the NFL for years to come. I'm just proud with how he's handled all the pressures and comparisons that he's had."

While Eli was thrilled to get the snaps on opening weekend, he's still clearly marked as Kurt Warner's backup and has no idea when his next rep will come.

"I don't know when I'm going to get in games," he said. "They're going to try to get me playing time. I don't know when that situation is going to come up so I have to be prepared at all times."

According to McDougle, who almost short-circuited Manning's career before it got off the ground, he's on the right path.

"The whole mechanics of him – he's a Manning, their family is pretty good quarterbacks – and he has the look of a quarterback and the build," McDougle said. "He's still got a lot to learn; it's his first year. But he'll be a good one once it's all over."

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