For Manning brothers, plenty at stake in Indy

Eli Manning (10) of the New York Giants and Peyton Manning (18) of the Indianapolis Colts embrace following the Colts 38-14 win at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 19, 2010 in Indianapolis.
Getty Images/Andy Lyons

If the Super Bowl is sports' greatest stage, this tale of two brothers is a storyline straight from Shakespeare.

There's little brother Eli Manning, the star quarterback of the New York Giants, preparing to lead his team in Sunday's big game against the New England Patriots, finding himself in Indianapolis sharing the stage not so much with his rival quarterback, Tom Brady, but with his own brother, Peyton.

"If you get concerned with other things," Eli told reporters Monday, "I think it takes your focus off of what your job has to be for this coming Sunday."

In this case, the other thing is the football future of 35-year-old Peyton Manning -- the face, arm and heart of the Indianapolis Colts ever since he was the No. 1 draft pick 14 years ago.

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"I've played a long time," Peyton said on ESPN Tuesday. "I'm grateful for the time I've played so far. And I have nothing to complain about. How much longer, we'll see."

There's a twist of irony in that his city is hosting its first-ever Super Bowl in a $720 million dollar state-of-the-art stadium built in large part due to Peyton's success. The Colts were hoping for a great year and a real chance to be the first team to play a hometown Super Bowl.

But Peyton didn't play at all this season due to a serious neck injury, and the Colts fell apart, recording a league-worst 2 wins and 14 losses. With his future still in jeopardy, the Colts face a $28 million decision: keep an aging great and pay him a multi-million dollar bonus, or let him go, and put their money and team in the hands of an untested rookie.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is expected to be the No. 1 draft pick this year and the last-place Colts' pick -- if they give up on Peyton.

"We're all kind of wondering," says Damon Hack of Sports Illustrated, "once that game is over, the big story's gonna be Peyton Manning and where's he's going to end up playing and if he's gonna end up playing in 2012" at all.

The speculation comes at a tender time for the tight-knit Manning brothers. Peyton has long been considered not only the more talented brother, but one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Come Sunday, little brother Eli has a chance to pass him if he wins a second Super Bowl ring -- twice as many as Peyton has.

Instead of playing on the world's biggest stage, Peyton finds himself playing cheerleader to Eli -- exactly what their father, Archie Manning, a Hall of Fame quarterback, has come to expect from his oldest son.

"I'm very proud of the way Peyton's handled this," Archie says. " ... It's a big brother thing. He's proud of his little brother. He's gonna pull hard for him."