PHILADELPHIA -- He wanted to be like Mike. Eli Manning had seen and heard enough about the two-dimensional wonders of Michael Vick, the passer who runs as if propelled by the turbo button on a video game remote.
Eli wanted to be the star. He wanted to be the superhero. He wanted to see the field open wide from the pocket, and he wanted to run for daylight.
More than anything, Eli wanted to be like Mike.
"I had a lot of running room," Manning would say. "You try to get as much as you can."
It was fourth-and-6 with the clock bleeding dry and the New York Giants trailing the Philadelphia Eagles by a 24-17 count. Tom Coughlin decided to go for it because he didn't want to give back the ball to Vick and the rest of the Eagles who sprint at an Olympic pace.
Manning dropped back to throw, just as he always does. He had one thought on his mind: find an open receiver at least 6 yards downfield.
Run? Eli likes running about as much as he likes the idea of being traded back to San Diego.
But his receivers were covered, and suddenly the Philly defense parted as if commanded by Moses' staff. Manning saw the open green mile before him for what it was: an engraved invitation to take off in cape-flapping, comic-book form.
A chance to make the biggest play with his legs since he escaped New England's grasp in the Super Bowl and landed a pass against David Tyree's helmet.
Run, Eli, run. That's what the angel on his right shoulder and the devil on his left were saying in unison. So Manning roared into the heart of the field, chugging a little faster than big brother Peyton ever could, silencing the Lincoln Financial Field crowd and gaining 10 more yards than he needed before the Eagles closed and it was time to hit the deck.
And out of left field, as if disoriented by his own heroics, Eli botched the landing. He crashed to the ground, leading with his helmet and torso instead of his feet, and lost control of the ball before a single Eagle touched him.
In the context of big New York sporting events over the years, this was the worst slide since Jeremy Giambi didn't.
"Yeah, we go over it," a disgusted Coughlin said of the standard quarterback slide. "Same thing happened a year ago. ... Got to slide."
No, the coach wasn't happy with his franchise player. The Giants have lost control of their division and any reason to believe Philly still doesn't have their number.
Coughlin said his defense played well enough to win, a nice way of saying his offense didn't. He talked of a "callous disregard for the ball," lumping Ahmad Bradshaw and his lost fumble in there with Manning, who was good for two more interceptions and, of course, the fumble that didn't have to be.
"If he would have slid," Coughlin said, "there would have been no discussion on the ball. It would've been interesting to see what would've happened from that point on.
"I don't think we would have said a thing if the ball didn't come out. But it did."
The Eagles recovered, punctuating a brutal day in the Manning household, a day started by Peyton's pick in Foxborough, Mass. Eli was trying to make do without Steve Smith, with an unruly mess of an offensive line, and with a running game that managed a grand sum of 61 yards.
The $100 million quarterback was trying to do a hundred different things. In the end, he couldn't perform the simplest task of all.
"We're kind of a slide away from being right in the game," Manning said.
He didn't have a good explanation for why he didn't slide. Manning rattled on about his forward momentum, about trying to gain as much yardage as he could, about reaching a point where he couldn't slow down.
"So you just go down the fastest way you know how," Manning said.
He should've just said the dog ate his playbook. Or that he got carried away watching Michael Vick.
On his first scoring drive, Philly's quarterback proved why every generation of NFL defenders would have rather faced John Unitas in his prime than this version of Vick.
With the Giants either unable to rush him, or just plain afraid of applying too much pressure and allowing him escape lanes, Vick stood patiently in the pocket -- he had enough time on some downs to write half his autobiography -- and completed a series of damaging midrange passes.
And just when the Giants forgot that Vick makes every fleet forefather from Randall Cunningham to Steve Young appear Eli Manning slow, the hottest player in the league used the opportunity of a second-and-goal at the 4-yard line to shed his pocket-passing skin and morph into Barry Sanders, zigging while the visiting defense zagged and winning a sprint to the right pylon.
That's why the Giants' journey here reminded of the Knicks' bygone journeys into Chicago to play Michael Jordan. Vick had so thoroughly dismantled the Redskins before an ESPN audience Monday night, accounting for six touchdowns with the greatest of ease, that he had elevated himself into Jordan's rare air.
If only temporarily.
Vick's post-prison body of work remains small enough to wonder if he can maintain this pace, and if he can keep his ribs healthy from here to the Super Bowl while playing with such reckless abandon.
Sunday night, Vick's receivers kept dropping touchdown passes on him in the first half, and the quarterback ultimately paid the price. The Giants got to him in the second half, beat him up even. Manning threw for two quick scores, and the Giants had an honest-to-god lead.
But after Jason Pierre-Paul made a rookie mistake to end all rookie mistakes, jumping offsides and keeping Philly on the field, a battered Vick bobbled the third-down snap, braced for Osi Umenyiora's hit, and barely got off the pitch to LeSean McCoy.
All McCoy did was race 50 yards for a touchdown. Vick converted the two-point pass, giving the Eagles the seven-point lead and setting the stage for Manning's mad dash to nowhere.
"If we want to go anywhere," Eli would say, "I've got to fix it."
He's got to learn how to slide, for starters.
"It's not the end of the world," the quarterback said.
When the ball popped out, it only felt that way.