published Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Eli Manning's Best of Preps visit ties in to a favorite message

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after his team's 21-17 win over New England Patriots in the NFL Super Bowl XLVI football game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012, in Indianapolis.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after his team's 21-17 win over New England Patriots in the NFL Super Bowl XLVI football game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012, in Indianapolis.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    New Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning holds up his Broncos jersey as team owner Pat Bowlen, left, and John Elway, vice president of football operations, look on during an NFL football news conference at the Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, two Super Bowl MVP trophies and 14-month-old daughter Ava.

Peyton Manning has one Super Bowl ring, one Super Bowl MVP trophy, four NFL MVP trophies and twins who were born 10 days after Ava.

So which Manning brother is better at changing diapers?

"Our mom," Eli said Friday afternoon with a chuckle.

Eleven days from today, Manning will display such wit and wisdom at this newspaper's Best of Preps banquet at the Chattanooga Convention Center. But it will be far from the first time the younger of Olivia and Archie Manning's two NFL quarterback sons has visited the Scenic City.

"I've actually been to Chattanooga a number of times to see Peyton," said Eli, referring to our town's most famous part-time resident. "I've played The Honors Course a few times. Tough course. Probably shot somewhere in the mid-80s."

But when he addresses more than 1,000 at the banquet, his message will have little to do with his golf game or his brother.

"I've probably spoken to more groups like this one this year than ever before because of the Super Bowl [win over New England in February]," Manning said. "And the most important thing I try to get across to young people -- whether it's athletics, academics, playing in the band, whatever you do -- is that you ultimately get out of something what you put into it. A great work ethic goes a long way."

His brother's work ethic is famous. No one outworks Peyton Manning. Even New England's Tom Brady has said of Peyton, "He's someone I always watch and admire, because he always wants to improve, he always wants to get better."

But consider this quote from Ken Lass, who coached Eli in high school in New Orleans: "We all know that Peyton's in the film room every free minute. But Eli's just the same; he just doesn't let it show as much."

What does show as much is Eli's zeal for charity work. Already involved in several endeavors for the good, his newest project is Build Our Kids' Success, which encourages exercise before school begins each day.

"Parents actually started it," Eli said. "The goal is to have kids run around, maybe have races, relays, just something to get them active before the school day begins. When you look at childhood obesity in this country, that's obviously important. But they've also found that when kids are active physically, their minds become more active. So it helps in the classroom, too."

Not that Eli had much trouble staying active as a youngster, what with oldest brother Cooper and Peyton always forcing him into neighborhood football, baseball and basketball games.

"We didn't have the Internet and video games and stuff back then," said Eli, who turned 31 in early January. "When you got home from school you went outside to play. That's just what you did."

His desire to give back comes largely from Archie, the longtime New Orleans Saints quarterback and the greatest QB in Ole Miss history until Eli became a Rebel.

"It was never what my dad said to us as much as just watching what he did," Eli said. "How no matter how sore or tired or hurt he was after a Saints game, he'd always sign autographs or pose for pictures with fans. How polite he was, always shaking hands. How he was always willing to help with this charity or that charity. I guess I just decided that's what you were supposed to do if you were ever in that position."

One position he never expected to worry about being in was on the wrong end of a bounty for injuring an NFL quarterback. But with the Saints in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's crosshairs these days for such behavior, one couldn't help but wonder what he thought of Bountygate.

"There's no place in professional football for any kind of bounty system," he said. "Football's a physical sport; football's a sport where injuries are always going to happen. That's part of the game. But there's no room for this, and hopefully Commissioner Goodell has made sure this will never happen again."

What happened again three weeks ago was another Manning brother starring on "Saturday Night Live," Eli hosting the comedy show five years after Peyton's guest turn in 2007.

Despite being forced to dress as a transvestite in one skit and utter more than a few questionable words in another, Eli insisted that his mother, who was in the audience, loved it.

"Mom even went to the after party," he said. "I'm not sure she's stayed up that late since college."

And that's just one more reason for everyone to catch Eli at the Best of Preps Banquet at the Convention Center on June 7. Unlike with "SNL," you should be on your way home by 9 p.m.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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