NEW ORLEANS — When Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his Giants counterpart, Eli Manning, are playing in the same game it is personal — albeit in a friendly way.
The backdrop of various personal connections they share gives their showdown Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey, even more flavor than the typical matchup of elite passers.
The Brees and Manning families have grown close since Brees arrived in New Orleans a little more than a decade ago and began raising a family in the same historic “Uptown” neighborhood where former Saints great Archie Manning raised his three sons, and still lives.
Brees’ three young boys and some of Archie’s grandchildren now go to the same school, which feeds into the same high school where Peyton and Eli Manning once played quarterback. Brees said his older boys have even expressed a rooting interest in Eli Manning, as well as fellow former Newman High School receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
“I basically said, as long as you’re rooting for us to win, I don’t care who you root for personally,” Brees said this week, recounting a talk with his children about this week’s game.
Archie Manning recalled hearing about the Brees boys’ affinity for Eli, and he could relate.
“That was funny,” Archie Manning said. “You know, 100 years ago I had the same thing happen. Someone asked (Archie’s oldest son) Cooper who his favorite quarterback was, and he said Roger Staubach,” who starred for the Dallas Cowboys while the elder Manning played for the Saints.
Brees said when Peyton Manning retired, he got a text from Archie that the Saints were now his second favorite team — up from third — now that he only has one son left playing in the NFL.
Archie Manning said that when he runs into Brees, the current Saints quarterback inevitably asks how Eli’s daughters are doing.
Meanwhile, Eli Manning’s mother, Olivia, and Brees’ wife, Brittany, have also become friends and socialize regularly.
At this point, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to predict that Brees and Eli Manning will one day run into each other in the stands at a Newman football game.
But this Sunday, they’ll be on opposite sidelines, trying to outdo one another, and assuming success on that front will require a prolific outing.
“You have to expect that they’re going to be able to score,” Eli Manning said of Brees and the Saints. “He’s put up (nearly) 40-some odd points last week. A bunch of times when we’ve played them, it’s been high-scoring. We have to know that offensively and do our part.”
With their busy professional and family schedules, Brees and Eli Manning don’t see each other too often — perhaps once or twice a year, Brees said. It’s usually when their teams play one another or at Pro Bowls.
Still, Archie Manning said it’s clear that his youngest son and Brees admire and appreciate one another on personal and professional levels.
“I don’t know that they see a lot of each other, but I know there’s mutual respect there,” Archie Manning said. “Everybody respects Drew as a quarterback and a person.”
Brees turned pro in 2001, Manning in 2004. Now both are seasoned veterans and not just former Super Bowl winners, but also Super Bowl MVPs.
Between them, they have accounted for more than 100,000 yards and more than 700 TDs passing — Brees for 61,326 yards and 432 TDs, Manning for 44,394 yards and 297 TDs.
Manning might never match Brees’ statistical production, but Brees has noticed Manning’s knack for coming through in high-stakes moments, as he did in two Super Bowls against the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick, who is renowned for his defensive acumen.
“He is extremely cerebral and very intelligent. I think he has a great command of the offense and of what is happening around him,” Brees said of Manning. “He has played big in some big games throughout his career. … You can never have a big enough lead against a guy like that.”
Indeed, when their teams met last season in New Orleans, the final score was: Saints 52, Giants 49.
“When he gets hot, it’s hot,” Brees added. “You just know that you have to be your best in a game like this when you have a quarterback like that on the other side.”