GLENDALE, Ariz. — So, do you think Eli Manning is going to get booed at home next year?
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago when New York Giants fans viewed Manning as a disappointment, maybe even a — gasp! — bust.
Now, that’s suddenly a distant, distant memory.
Sunday night, Manning cemented his place in franchise history with a drive that gave the Giants one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history — a 17-14 victory over the previously undefeated New England Patriots.
Minutes later, Manning was named Super Bowl XLII MVP, one year after his brother Peyton took home the MVP from the Indianapolis Colts’ win over the Chicago Bears.
“It’s an unbelievable game,” Eli Manning said, “and an unbelievable feeling.”
Manning’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in the far left corner of the end zone capped an 83-yard, 12-play drive that lasted 2:07 and left just 35 seconds on the clock for the Patriots. He finished 19-for-34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Dressed in a white Giants championship T-shirt that was drenched in sweat, Manning said, “The guys on this team and the run we’ve made, it’s hard to believe — it really is.”
In Peyton’s MVP news conference last year, he predicted Eli would soon win a Super Bowl title, too — a statement that probably wasn’t taken too seriously in New York.
But now Eli is a Super Bowl champion and an MVP, and he earned both accolades with a game-winning drive no one could have foreseen just a few months ago.
Except the Manning brothers.
“I’ve talked about it with Peyton, which situation would you want to be in,” Eli said. “I want to be down four late where you know you have to score a touchdown.”
Eli got his wish Sunday night after Tom Brady connected with Randy Moss on a 6-yard touchdown pass and the extra-point kick gave the Patriots a 14-10 lead. The Giants got the ball back at their own 17-yard line with 2:39 left, and the calm, composed Manning took over.
Manning’s most impressive play of the drive came on a third-and-5 from their own 44-yard line. With several Patriots converging, he somehow managed to escape the sack. Then he found David Tyree down the middle for a 32-yard completion.
Asked how he got away from the Patriots defenders, Manning shrugged and smiled. “You try to get small sometimes and sneak through,” Manning said.
On the sideline, players ran the gamut of emotions. “You know the play when Eli got out of the sack, that play alone took a few years off my life,” Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.
That brought them to the 24-yard line, then three plays later Manning connected with Steve Smith for 13 yards and then hit Burress in the end zone for the winning score.
Now Manning is in the same class as Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, quarterbacks who have led the Giants to Super Bowl victories.
“I always thought he was capable of this,” wide receiver Amani Toomer said. “I’ve never questioned him at all. … I mean, how many quarterbacks can do what he did today?”