If NBC decided to market Super Bowl XLVI the way you market a soapy drama, they would probably go with something like, "The Super Bowl that could tear the Manning family apart!"
Hyperbolic? You bet, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a chance that the result of the game between the Giants and Patriots isn't going to change the way that Peyton and Eli Manning are viewed by the masses.
One of the big storylines leading into and, should the Giants win, out of the game is going to be the pecking order of the quarterbacks in the Manning family.
As well as Eli has played this season and as bright as his future looks, it still feels a bit ridiculous to talk about him possibly moving past his brother on the quarterbacking ladder.
Peyton has put together one of the greatest careers of any quarterback in history, with a track record of success that his younger brother isn't close to matching at this point in time.
The recency effect plays a role in this question being asked. If Peyton had played this season, he would have likely thrown for close to 5,000 yards in an environment slanted heavily toward quarterbacks. Even if the Colts missed the playoffs or made their patented early exit, he would have been front and center in everyone's mind as a quarterback with the kind of talent that makes defensive coordinators think about a new line of work.
He didn't play, though, and there's a question about when/if he'll get back on the field. Three neck surgeries also call into question just how well he'll play when he gets back to doing his interpretive dance routine before snaps. Eli is playing for the Super Bowl after one of the toughest quarterbacking performances we've seen, and it feels like he's just scratching the surface of how good he can become.
Peyton is old news, basically. Eli is the player who it once seemed was being forced into the role of franchise quarterback simply because his last name was Manning. The Eli story is fresher, which, along with the unlikelihood of finding yourself even contemplating such a changing of the guard, makes it an easy one for people to buy into.
Perception is an important part of this as well. There are no absolutes when it comes to ranking the best quarterbacks of all time, which leaves you free to come up with any order that you like. You can rank Boomer Esiason ahead of Dan Marino. You'd almost certainly be wrong, but, hey, your perrogative.
If Eli wins another Super Bowl, the perception might not be that he's a better quarterback than Peyton, but it will almost certainly be that he's a better quarterback in big moments and games than his older brother. Beating Tom Brady twice in the Super Bowl would be particularly big on this front.
For all of Peyton's success, he has consistently come up short against Brady in the playoffs. That's why he's been to two Super Bowls while Brady is getting ready for his fifth. Throw in some other shaky postseason moments against Eli leading the Giants on two unexpected runs to the big game and you've got a pretty compelling argument that Eli is the better Manning in the big spot.
Quarterbacks are judged on two criteria -- stats and rings -- and everyone balances out those criteria differently. But if you had to generalize, you would say that the rings wind up mattering more than the stats to fans and media, and that would do a lot to add to the perception that Eli has surpassed Peyton with a second Super Bowl victory.
Ian O'Connor of ESPNNewYork.com drew an interesting comparison between the Manning brothers and the Williams sisters. Sadly, it had nothing to do with the Oreo commercials they made together. O'Connor wonders if we won't wind up seeing Eli playing the Serena role as the younger sibling who comes behind their accomplished predecesor and winds up obliterating their achievements.
That still doesn't sit right, not with such a huge gap between the two brothers when it comes to the overall picture of their careers. But a win in Indy, Peyton's home field and an interesting angle all by itself, it would at least seem plausible that Eli could one day stand as the best quarterback with the last name Manning in NFL history.
That's remarkable enough all by itself.