Eli took page from Archie's book Sunday

Archie Manning handed down so many redeeming traits to his quarterbacking sons -- accountability, poise, common decency -- that it is easy to overlook the one he kept all for himself.


"When Peyton and even Eli were young high school players," Archie said Monday, "they'd ask me, 'Why aren't we faster?' They were curious that if there were any genes there, 'Why didn't we get them?'"

Archie wasn't an Olympic sprinter out of Ole Miss, but his ability to deke and dodge and scramble served him well with the sadsack Saints of New Orleans, where the quarterback's job description read like this: When in doubt, run for your NFL life.

Young Peyton inquired about his father's mobility more often than young Eli did, if only because the kid brother quietly understood he had a little more Archie to his game.

The New England Patriots found out the hard way in Super Bowl XLII, and again Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., where Eli was elite and elusive when he had to be, honoring his own public claim to a front-row seat in Tom Brady's class.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is one of the league's beautiful defensive minds -- at least he used to be -- and yet his defense never gets Eli on the ground when it has to. No, nothing Manning did with his feet in the New York Giants' 24-20 victory matched his absurd Super Bowl escape on the pass to David Tyree's helmet.

But in the final minute of the fourth quarter, Eli's quarter, Manning did hurt the Patriots on a 12-yard run and, believe it or not, hurt them again on a scramble that resulted in an incomplete pass.

First the 12-yard run. If Eli didn't inspire visions of Michael Vick or Steve Young, and he didn't, he did show a slight burst of speed (God forbid), a small dose of athleticism (perish the thought), and the kind of big-picture vision usually associated with the greats of the game (i.e. Brady and Peyton).

What has to be understood, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, "is that a quarterback sees the coverage and recognizes the coverage, and sometimes when the coverage is such that it is a vulnerable coverage to the quarterback pulling the ball down and running, he doesn't do it until a key time in the game, when perhaps you need it the very most.

"That's when [Manning] pulled it down and ran. I thought that that was wise."

But not as wise as the play Manning made on first-and-goal at the Patriots' 1 with half a minute left, a play lost in the postgame rush to rewind the memories and point out that the Giant making the big, crazy catches, Jake Ballard, was wearing Tyree's No. 85. (Just a hunch, but I'm guessing the coincidence didn't resonate in New England like the fact the St. Louis Cardinal who made the final out in the 2004 World Series -- Edgar Renteria -- was wearing Babe Ruth's No. 3.)

The Pats called a blitz up the middle, and Manning made a hard roll to his left that was pulled out of his father's playbook. "I was really proud of Eli on that one," Archie said, "because a sack would've been disaster. Just by getting that throw off, Eli almost won the game."

Under heavy pressure, rolling against the grain, Manning threw low and into the end zone for Ballard. It was the one ball the tight end didn't bring home.

Coughlin gushed about the incompletion, anyway, suggesting it was the play of the game. "We have a crazy name for that blitz," the winning coach said, "but [Gary] Guyton was right on top of [Manning]. I mean point-blank range. And not only does he avoid him and rolls to his left, but he almost throws a strike.

"That ball, arguably, is a catchable ball. It's off balance. It's to his left. He makes a heck of a play."

Manning found Ballard for the winning score two plays later, leaving Eli with another defining victory over Brady, whom Coughlin called "one of the superb quarterbacks in the history of the league."

Eli's preseason remarks to ESPN New York 1050's Michael Kay that he sees himself as a Brady-level quarterback -- a stunner given Eli's long history of colorless quotes -- represented the soundtrack for this Giants-Patriots rematch. And despite playing without Hakeem Nicks or Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning wasn't sacked in any literal or figurative way.

Archie believes the constant focus on his son's 25-interception season in 2010 compelled Eli to say what he said. "It didn't sound much like Eli," Archie said, "but I think he got really tired of everything being about those interceptions, and maybe his father did, too. … I think Eli just kind of said, 'Hey, I can play football, too.'"

Manning played a better brand of football than Brady did, again, and Archie took it in via TV. With Peyton down and out, the old man told his wife, Olivia, that he has to navigate only three hours of nervousness every game day rather than six.

And Manning maintained those three Giants-Patriots hours were made tougher by the Fox broadcast crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. "I don't always listen to Troy and Joe," Archie said. "They're kind of hard on Eli. Joe's always been really tough on Eli, and it seems this year Troy is, too. But that's OK. Sometimes I just mute them."

Archie did call Aikman one of the best quarterbacks of them all, and did agree with Aikman's assessment about the game's current crop of prolific passers, but he wasn't interested in rating Eli above this guy or below that guy.

The Manning patriarch will concede that Eli's standing in the sport has more to do with his brother than his father. "When Peyton first got to college, and during his rookie year with the Colts," Archie said, "I tried to be there for him. Not as his coach -- I've never been an X-and-O guy -- but as his father and a little bit as a former player.

"Eli didn't have to do that. He had Peyton to lean on, and Peyton's 10 times better than me."

Peyton might be the best sounding board and football player in the family, but he's also the slowest runner. If Archie has three steps on him, Eli has one.

Over four years, if nothing else, that one step has kept the Giants' elite quarterback safely removed from New England's grasp.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday, 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.