The NFL's Royal Family

The Manning brothers had a great role model, but they learned to win with very different styles

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What do football's royal brothers talk about during the NFL season? Peyton Manning, the record-breaking quarterback for the game's most dominant team, the Indianapolis Colts, avoids evangelism. "I kind of let him ask me any questions before I give him advice," says Peyton, 29, of his discussions with younger brother Eli, 24, the second-year quarterback for the New York Giants. "He's got his coaches, and he's learning from his experience. What are you going to tell somebody? 'Hey! This team is fast.' He knows that."

According to Eli, however, Peyton is not above espionage. "He's been asking a lot of questions," says Eli. "I think he knows we play [against each other] next year-- he's getting too specific with things. I think he's taking notes, so I have to be careful now." Any chance Peyton might be prepping for an earlier Manning matchup, Super Bowl XL this February in Detroit? Eli winces, sidestepping the question as he would a blitzing linebacker. "Aw. I don't know."

Smart move. A Manning vs. Manning Super Bowl may be a long shot this season. The Colts are the better bet, having won their first 10 games in a row and a near lock on home-field advantage in the AFC play-offs, where the RCA Dome's fast artificial turf will make Indy's no-huddle offense almost impossible to stop. Still, the surprising Giants (7-3 going into last weekend) have a good chance at a postseason slot in the tight NFC East. And the conference is as wide open as Terrell Owens' yap--football fans can surely dare to dream.

The Mannings are marching toward the stretch run with their quick releases, clutch completions and superior pigskin IQ passed down from their famous father Archie, a Pro Bowl quarterback who suffered the ignominy of leading the New Orleans team in the 1970s and early '80s, when the Saints were nicknamed the Aints. The brothers "both have tremendous ability to see the field," says David Cutcliffe, the offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee when Peyton starred there in 1994-97 and Eli's head coach at the University of Mississippi in 2000-03. "Their brains work so quick it's unbelievable. What occurs in 3.2 seconds, it takes them 25 seconds to tell you what went through their minds--to verbalize it. I've never been around anybody like those two."

Despite their similar looks, strong arms and size (both are almost 6 ft. 5 in., Peyton a broader 230 lbs.), the Mannings offer a study in contrasts: Perfectionist Peyton vs. Easy Eli. "They're pretty different across the board," says Cooper Manning, 31, the eldest brother, an institutional equity broker whose promising football career was cut short by spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) before his freshman year at Ole Miss. "You can always see Peyton just grinding it the whole time. He's so intense, it's impossible to ignore. And with Eli, there's such a calming effect and such a coolness to him that sometimes you'd question whether he even realizes he's playing a football game."

For the Mannings, the games began in the front yard of the family home in the ornate Garden District of New Orleans. Cooper and Peyton relegated little Eli to the ignoble role of center, the guy who snaps the ball to the glory-hogging quarterback. "Every once in a while they'd throw a pass to me," says Eli in the barely detectable Delta drawl he shares with Peyton. "If I dropped it, I wouldn't get the ball the rest of the day."

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