Eli’s stunning


His older brother built this house.

Sunday, Eli Manning raised the roof.

The sleepy-eyed New York Giants quarterback woke the past, beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in four years -- a 21-17 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In the 2008 game, the signature play was an against-all-odds completion to David Tyree, who pinned the ball to his helmet as he fell to the ground, a catch that set up the winning touchdown in the final minute.

This time, the rub-your-eyes reception was a 38-yarder dropped into the hands of Mario Manningham on the first play of the drive to another last-minute winning TD. He beat two defenders and just got his feet in before tumbling out of bounds. The play was unsuccessfully challenged by the Patriots.


“I knew as soon as the ball hit my fingertips, I was going to have to freeze my feet,” Manningham said. “I kind of knew I was in.”

The deciding touchdown was a six-yard run up the middle by Ahmad Bradshaw with 57 seconds to play. The Patriots allowed him to score in order to get the ball back in the hands of Tom Brady for one more chance.

Bradshaw attempted to stop just short of the goal line so the Giants -- who trailed 17-15 and needed only a field goal to win -- could use more of the clock, but his momentum carried him and he tumbled backward into the end zone.

Brady, who was going for his fourth ring, took possession with 57 seconds left after a touchback on the kickoff, and got his team to midfield, but his Hail Mary heave on the final play fell incomplete.

“We fought to the end,” Brady said. “I’m very proud of that. We just came up a little short.

“It always comes down to one or two plays in this game. If you make it, you’re celebrating. If you don’t, you don’t sleep for a week.”

Once again, Manning was named the game’s most valuable player, after completing 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown on the same field where his older brother Peyton, a four-time NFL MVP, has orchestrated so many victories for the Indianapolis Colts.

“It just feels good to win a Super Bowl,” said Eli, who now has two championship rings to Peyton’s one. “It doesn’t matter where you are, what stadium.”

Not so long ago, the Giants appeared worlds away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. They pulled out of a tailspin that had dropped their record to 7-7, beat Dallas in a do-or-die finale, then in the playoffs became only the second team in league history to get to the Super Bowl by beating three teams with better records.

“Quite frankly, I felt pretty good about our team the whole time,” Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. “I know on the outside there was a lot of typical stuff going on. You lose a game in New York you’re fired, burned at the stake or whatever. But I didn’t pay a lot of attention to that.”

Now, his team is the first Super Bowl champion to have entered the playoffs with nine wins since the league switched to a 16-game schedule, the first to have been outscored in the regular season, and the first to win it all after weathering a four-game losing streak.

“Oh, man, what a game!” said Steve Tisch, co-owner of the Giants. “I thought four years ago was exciting. That was a dress rehearsal. This was one of the greatest football games I’ve ever seen.”

It was also a spectacular display of pinpoint passing on both sides, with both Manning and Brady setting Super Bowl records with their precision.

Manning set one by completing his first nine passes, and later Brady connected on 16 in a row, also a Super Bowl record.

Brady broke Joe Montana’s record with that streak, but he could not match the four championship rings of San Francisco’s Montana and Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw. The Patriots, who were three-point favorites, are 3-2 in Super Bowls with Brady at quarterback.

The Patriots were largely without one of their most dangerous offensive weapons. Rob Gronkowski, who set an NFL record for tight ends this season with 17 touchdown catches, was hobbled all last week by a high ankle sprain suffered in the AFC championship game. He was able to play Sunday but for the most part wasn’t much of a factor; he finished with two catches for 26 yards.

Still, New England overcame an early 9-0 deficit by scoring 17 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.

Trailing, 17-9, midway through the third quarter, the Giants gradually dug their way out of the hole with two field goals by Lawrence Tynes and the touchdown by Ahmad Bradshaw. Meanwhile, their defense kept New England off the scoreboard for the last 26 minutes 20 seconds, after Brady had driven the Patriots to a touchdown on the first series after halftime.

“We played smart,” said Manning, whose season was marked by repeated fourth-quarter comebacks. “There at the end when we had an opportunity in the fourth quarter, we’d been in those situations and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score, and guys stepped up and made great plays.”

Throughout, Manning was steady -- with his family watching in a luxury suite and holding its collective breath on every snap.

“He just hung in there,” said Eli’s father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning. “He was patient, and he had to be patient. He was sacked some early, and it wasn’t easy. There wasn’t anything easy out there. He played like a quarterback needs to play.”

The game was a fitting bookend to a Giants season that began with Eli answering in a radio interview that, yes, he belonged in a class with Brady among the NFL elite. It wasn’t a particularly cocky answer, but it raised eyebrows around the league and had some people ridiculing Manning.

Sunday, he wasn’t in Brady’s class.

Manning was a cut above.