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the sports section

Eli Manning Wins One for the Geeks

Eli!

Victory is sweet, huh?Photo: Getty Images

The main story line going into the Giants-Packers NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field revolved around Eli Manning: Had he really turned the corner during the final game of the regular season against the Patriots, or was his solid — even superlative — postseason play thus far merely a tease?

Lost in all that was the fact that Manning’s opponent under center had also turned his own corner at the beginning of the season. After breaking the all-time interception record last year, Brett Favre led the Packers to their best season in years by finally learning how to not be a hero — that is, play within himself and resist the moon-shot interceptions that have plagued his whole career.

And it was Favre, not Manning, who ran right back around the corner he'd supposedly turned. In the fourth quarter and overtime tonight, as the game stayed close, it was obvious that the old Favre — the one who lives to save the game with a glorious (read: stupid) pass — could not be held back. He started heaving ill-considered bombs into triple coverage, got away with an interception after the Giants fumbled it, and finally managed to throw a terrible pick just two plays into overtime, leading to the winning field goal.

Manning, meanwhile, wasn’t heroic, but he didn’t need to be. He played with a cool composure all night, hitting Plaxico Burress again and again for first downs, understanding that his defense (superb again) could help win the game if he let them. And now, regardless of whether he has actually turned the corner, Manning’s golden: The Patriots will be so heavily favored in the Super Bowl that only a truly terrible game could erase the goodwill he’s built up.

And imagine, for a moment, if the Giants somehow won. That would mean Eli had defeated the troika of Quarterback Golden Gods in one postseason: Favre, Brady, and, by going further in the playoffs, his very own brother, Peyton (not to mention the leading candidate to join that list of untouchables, the Jessica Simpson–dating Tony Romo). He’ll never be one of them — despite his storied name, he’s too modest in both talent and personality — but he’d be something more endearing, and rare: the nerd who scored with a cheerleader won.

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