I didn’t want to be one of these pushy daddies. I’m as proud as the next guy, but I’ve always been a little skeptical of the daddies who walk around talking about what great athletes their kids are. This is probably because I played athletics. I had played here in New Orleans for the Saints, and I retired here. At the time we were the only game in town. I was worried about that, too; I didn’t want [my sons] to be singled out. We went to school board meetings, we went to Little League games, and we did everything to be normal.
Cooper was the first one. He wasn’t, you know, a blue-chip, four-star recruit at wide receiver. He was more marginal. He probably wound up with about seven or eight offers. He wanted to play college football but unfortunately had some spinal cord trouble and had to give it up. Cooper and Peyton—they played a lot of ball. If they ever asked me to play catch with them, I went. But they kind of had to ask. I wasn’t trying to raise professional quarterbacks. Eli came along five years later. Having those first two, two years apart, you can imagine all of the Little League games and basketball games.
As for Eli, we kind of dragged him around. I always told Olivia [my wife]: “This child is not going to want to play sports.” But he just followed the same path as Peyton. The same sports, the same position. Then a lot of folks started coming around, recruiting Eli, too. I didn’t really know how good they were until it was confirmed by the colleges.
The first time Peyton and Eli played against each other was the [NFL] opening game of 2006. It turned into a pretty big deal. They called it “the Manning Bowl.” And I thought the boys did a wonderful job of playing that down and making it the Giants vs. the Colts. They didn’t compete when they were little like Cooper and Peyton did, because there was a five-year gap. They handled it really well, but it was tough on me and Olivia. Naturally, the cameras were on us. And we kept saying that we were just “pulling for the offense.”
We’re really excited for the Giants and Eli this year. They had some problems this season, but they hung in and got hot at the end. We kind of pinch ourselves. A lot of the last six years, we’ve had a child play in the Super Bowl. — As told to Keenan Mayo