Sibling revelry

The Baltimore Sun

PHOENIX -- It isn't easy being a famous little brother.

Just ask Billy Carter ... or Ozzie Canseco ... or anybody in the Baldwin family who isn't named Alec.

That's why the Super Bowl saga of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is such a breath of fresh air.

The younger brother of last year's Super Bowl hero has quickly carved out his niche in the family business, which could include pulling the biggest Super Bowl upset since Joe Namath popped off and then backed it up against the supposedly invincible Baltimore Colts in 1969.

Don't expect any wild predictions from Eli, who has tackled the challenge of living up to big brother Peyton's terrific career with an endearing, boyish enthusiasm that is playing just right in the bright spotlight of Super Bowl week.

Former President Jimmy Carter should have been so fortunate. His homespun little brother, Billy, was a regular embarrassment to the administration. I tried to save a can of Billy Beer as a collector's item but must have had a weak, thirsty moment at some point because I've never been able to locate it.

I realize that Jose and Ozzie Canseco are twins. I really don't know who came out first, but I stand by my description of Ozzie as the little brother, if you get my drift. He never lived up to Jose's ability to hit a baseball or jam a syringe into the south end of a grateful teammate, so there's no need to nit-pick about it.

The reference to the Baldwin brothers was gratuitous. Alec is a highly talented actor (and underrated comedian), but otherwise I think you'll agree we've suffered enough at the hands of his siblings.

So, count your blessings. The Manning brothers are in the midst of back-to-back Super Bowl runs, and they're so appealing that I'm even looking forward to their next wave of television commercials.

Really, the thing that really cemented my man-crush on Peyton was his performance on Saturday Night Live, some of which you can pick up on YouTube if you don't stay up that late.

I've spent a lot of years in this business, and it's the rare sports superstar who can spoof himself with such comedic flair. Manning's satirical United Way commercial, in which he morphs into a profane, abusive anti-Peyton while coaching a group of young kids, still makes me laugh just thinking about it. If you haven't seen it, it ends with Peyton teaching the kids how to break into a car.

I even enjoy Peyton's "Priceless Pep Talks" for MasterCard - especially the one in which he advises nonathletes to give up on developing rock-hard abs and just wear bigger shirts. That's the kind of affirmation guys like me need from our sports heroes.

The word on Madison Avenue is that Eli will be in line for up to $5 million in new endorsements if he can keep the New England Patriots from completing their historic 19-0 run, but he's going to do OK no matter what happens Sunday.

Not surprisingly, Eli credits his parents - one of whom also was a very good NFL quarterback - with creating an environment in which he and his brothers could excel at football without feeling obligated to make it their life's work.

"I think my parents did a great job of not putting expectations on us," he said Tuesday. "They wanted us to be ourselves and do whatever we loved to do. If we wanted to be in a band or be in a play or do anything, they were supportive of us."

Maybe that's why Peyton and Eli seem so comfortable in their skins, even as the spotlight glares down on them.

The road to the Super Bowl has not been easy for Eli, who has had to deal with comparisons to his older brother from the start, but he weathered the pressure that came with being the top player in the 2004 draft and the controversy that erupted after he told the San Diego Chargers he didn't want to play for them.

"You can't get caught up in it," he said. "Especially early on, you're not going to be able to fill everybody's expectations of what you're supposed to do. ... You just have to believe in yourself."

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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