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Football’s First Family

From Associated Press

For the Mannings, this has been a near-perfect season.

Peyton was chosen as the NFL’s co-MVP, while younger brother Eli blossomed into a Heisman Trophy finalist as Mississippi’s quarterback.

Next month, the Mannings hope to be in Houston watching Peyton’s Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl and by April, they could have another No. 1 draft pick in the family.

It’s almost too good to be true.

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“I’ve always said the most fun fall we had was in ’91, when Peyton was a sophomore in high school and Cooper was a senior and they played together,” patriarch Archie Manning said about his two oldest sons. “Both had great years, they went to the state semifinals, it was just fun to watch. But this one has certainly rivaled that.”

The Mannings seem to have football running through their veins, but they’ve always put family first.

Archie Manning, a former quarterback with the New Orleans Saints, Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings, spent this season traveling long distances to watch two of his sons.

He made the 5 1/2-hour drive from his New Orleans home to Oxford, Miss., six times, in addition to traveling to places such as Auburn, Ala., Gainesville, Fla., Cleveland and Indianapolis.

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In all, he has attended 22 games -- all 13 of Mississippi’s and nine of the Colts’ 17 games -- logged more miles than he can count and cheered more than he can remember.

“It’s been a busy fall,” he said with a chuckle.

The brothers, including Cooper, are nearly inseparable, too.

Cooper, 29, was in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, then flew to Indianapolis for the Colts’ playoff game against Denver. In between, there were phone calls to Peyton.

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Peyton, meanwhile, cut short his MVP news conference so he could hurry home to watch Eli’s bowl game. In high school, he switched from No. 14 to No. 18 as a tribute to Cooper, who was forced out of football with a congenital narrowing of the spinal canal.

Peyton, the middle son at 27, produced the best season in his six-year NFL career and leads his team in today’s AFC playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

He extended his league record to five straight 4,000-yard seasons, broke his own franchise record for completion percentage (67.0) and had the fewest interceptions of his career (10). He became the first player since 1970 to throw five touchdowns in a game three times in a season and won his first playoff game Sunday.

Eli Manning’s success has almost mirrored his brother’s.

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He celebrated his 22nd birthday last week by beating Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. That gave Mississippi its first 10-win season since 1971 and its first January bowl victory since 1970 when his father was the quarterback.

He set 45 school records, more than half of which belonged to his father.

And in February at the Maxwell Award ceremonies, there will be another family reunion -- as the two quarterbacks become the first brothers to pick up the college and pro player of the year awards in the same season.


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