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eli manning

Eli Manning, Ascendant

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants reacts after he threw a 17-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to Mario Manningham #82 against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Look at how big our little boy has become.

Back in 2004, Michael Lewis, fresh off his Moneyball success and in early research mode on the book that would be The Blind Side, wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine called "The Eli Experiment." The general premise was that the Giants, like all NFL teams, placed the entire future of their whole franchise and the jobs of everyone involved, on the shoulders of a weird kid with unproved talent. They were all just guessing. Eli himself comes across as almost alien in the piece, curiously removed from the whole process, bewildered by all the fuss. The piece did not do much to make you feel as if Eli Manning was going to be a franchise savior, to say the least. And yet here he is.

The development of Manning over the last year, more so than any other time in his career, has been staggering, and it's kind of amazing to think that, considering the steps he took this year, he is already a Super Bowl–winning quarterback. When Manning played so well in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots — and time has dulled people's perceptions on this, as if he threw one pass all game that stuck to the head of David Tyree — it was almost out of character, a stunner, a sudden sprouting of chest hair. If Manning plays like that this Super Bowl, though, no one will be surprised. Manning has transformed from an uncertainty to an undeniable strength.

Now, it's a bit much to start claiming he is somehow going to "surpass" his brother, as Ian O'Connor appears to say this morning. Impressively, he does pull out a Serena Williams comparison, though.

When Richard Williams first predicted that his young Serena would someday blow past the not-quite-as-young Venus, many found the suggestion to be positively mad, not to mention unfair to Venus. But it turned out Richard Williams was dead on. Serena has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles, and Venus seven. Archie Manning never forecasted Eli's conquest of Mount Peyton, but facts are facts: Eli is one more victory over Tom Brady away from owning two majors to Peyton's one, and that's the way quarterbacks keep count.

For the record, that's not actually how quarterbacks keep count, unless you think Trent Dilfer is better than Dan Marino. (And you might! Though you totally shouldn't.) But at this point, when you go back and read Lewis's story on Eli, it's rather astounding just how good he turned out to be. Giants fans have watched him grow up, watched him struggle in a way his brother never did, watched him impress and regress and progress. And now here he is, the unquestioned leader of a team going for its second championship in four years. It's enough to make you proud of the little guy. Turns out: Squash wasn't his favorite sport after all.

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Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images