By John Torenli
Serena Williams did it. And so did Julia Roberts, Joaquin Phoenix and Elizabeth Olsen.
No, I’m not talking about winning Wimbledon or capturing a Golden Globe or Academy Award nomination.
This has nothing to do with yelling at linesmen, becoming America’s “Pretty Woman,” aping Johnny Cash to perfection or fleeing an abusive cult.
What the above four have in common is quite simple: They’ve all found a way to rise to stardom and carve out their own niche by equaling, if not surpassing, the achievements of their older, previously more famous siblings.
That’s something Eli Manning has a chance to do Feb. 5 during Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, where big brother Peyton Manning has established himself as an NFL icon with an unprecedented four MVP awards, two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl XLI title.
With Peyton facing the grim reality that his days with the Colts are numbered due to a series of neck surgeries and Indianapolis’s desire to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in April’s draft, Eli is chasing a second Lombardi Trophy.
Big bro isn’t exactly feeling the love in Indy these days, especially during the run-up to what many predict will be yet another classic Super Bowl as the Colts try to recover from a previously unfathomable 2-14 finish.
“It’s 20 degrees, it’s snowing, the building is absolutely empty except when you see coaches cleaning out their offices,” Manning told the AP this week.
“I guess it’s the reality of the football world, just not something I’ve had to deal with very often. But I’m in there every day, so I have to sit there and see it. Everybody’s being evaluated and I’m no different. It’s not the best environment.”
Four short years ago, Eli outdueled Peyton’s longtime nemesis, Tom Brady, to derail New England’s previously perfect season with a 17-14 Big Blue triumph for the ages in Glendale, Ariz.
Though that win came a year after Peyton’s first Super Bowl victory in Miami, it certainly didn’t elevate Eli to the lofty status his brother has held for well over a decade now.
In fact, it simply made family patriarch Archie Manning, a star quarterback with a star-crossed NFL career, the only dad with two Super Bowl MVPs for sons.
Of course, Peyton is more revered in his field of work than Venus Williams, Eric Roberts, River Phoenix and twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen ever were. But Eli has an opportunity the Sunday after next to pass Peyton in the one category that matters most in the NFL when defining quarterback legacies: Super Bowl wins.
If Eli somehow gets the red-hot Giants past Brady and the slightly favored Patriots, he’ll join a list of only 10 quarterbacks in history to have won multiple Super Bowls — one of the few lists his brother is not yet a member of.
Venus Williams was the first in her family to win a major singles title and has since gone on to capture seven of them. But Serena has roared past big sis on the way to 13 singles crowns, including six victories over Venus in eight head-to-head grand slam showdowns. For the record, Peyton is 2-0 against Eli in regular-season matchups between the Colts and Giants.
Eric Roberts was the next big thing out of Hollywood during the 1980s, having starred in breakthrough roles in The Pope of Greenwich Village and Star 80. But little sister Julia flashed those pearly whites and curled her hair just-so on the way to capturing America’s heart during the next decade. She also picked up an Oscar for her turn as Erin Brockovich back in 2000.
River Phoenix, who died in 1993 at the too-young age of 23, established himself as the James Dean of his generation with eye-catching turns in films like Stand By Me, My Own Private Idaho and Running on Empty. Joaquin seemed like an afterthought in the Phoenix lineage before copping a pair of Oscar noms for Gladiator (2000) and the Cash biopic Walk the Line (2006). We’ll gloss over his bizarre turn in the recent Casey Affleck-directed mockumentary I’m Still Here, in which Joaquin announces his retirement from acting in order to pursue a career in hip-hop, though I’ll admit I’m dying to see it.
Mary Kate and Ashley rose to stardom as the adorable twins in the hit TV series “Full House” during the late 1980s and early 90s before branching out as hardcore fashionistas and reality stars. Little sis Elizabeth is rapidly emerging as one of the top young actresses in the industry following her stirring independent feature debut performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film that follows her assimilation to normal life after escaping from a cult.
As for Eli, Super Sunday will provide yet another proving ground for a quarterback who flirted with throwing for 5,000 yards this season while displaying to colleagues, fans and the media that he is every bit as “Elite” as any other signal-caller in the game.
A second victory over Brady, who was 3-0 in Super Bowls before he ran into the Giants in ’08, and another MVP trophy in the Manning family case will doubtlessly make Eli the Manning.
At least until Peyton returns to form and resumes his Hall of Fame career — a big question mark as the offseason approaches.
In the meantime, little brother has a chance to join a very exclusive club on the very field where big bro made his legend. And he’s taking the opportunity very seriously, according to his teammates.
“He doesn’t say much and when he says something, he means it,” said Giants safety Antrel Rolle after Eli warned his teammates to get down to the business of preparing for the Pats rather than basking in the glory of reaching the Super Bowl.
“It’s about business and that’s basically what the message was about. We’ve got to go out there and take care of business. Everything else is for the spectators. Everything else is for your family and for your friends. We’re going out there to take care of business.”
Ironically enough, Peyton will play the role of spectator while Eli tries to take care of family business in Indianapolis 10 short days from now. Oh, brother.