The Giants had been Peyton Manning’s second-favorite team for a dozen years, behind only his own. But now that he is a free-agent fan, the former Colts and Broncos quarterback is able to focus more than ever on his brother Eli’s team.

“I watch the Giants games with a lot of enthusiasm and passion and really feel invested in all those games,” Manning said Wednesday before being honored in Manhattan as Sportsman of the Year by the March of Dimes Greater New York Market at its 33rd annual Sports Luncheon.

“I always have, but I used to have to stop watching Eli play if it was a day game and I had a night game because I was sweating so badly and I hadn’t even started my game yet. So I had to ease off of that.

“It’s fun having a brother play and you do feel invested in pulling for him and I really have enjoyed watching him play this year . . . I really pull hard for him.”

Of course, Peyton is no ordinary fan. He said he sat near the ownership Mara and Tisch families at the Giants’ opener against the Cowboys in Texas in September.

Then came Tuesday, when his special fan privileges really kicked in. Since he was in town for the March of Dimes event, he watched the Giants practice in East Rutherford, N.J., sat in on meetings and addressed the players.

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“It was really fun,” Peyton said. “I really appreciate coach [Ben] McAdoo letting me come and just hang out for a little bit. It was fun watching Eli kind of do his thing in meetings and kind of run the show a little bit and I really enjoyed being around Coach McAdoo. It’s the first time I’ve been around him.”

Peyton said he spent time with McAdoo, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti Jr., and sat in on a quarterbacks meeting. He insisted he mostly was listening, not talking.

Well, mostly.

“I enjoyed talking ball, and if there’s a question to be asked I’d be glad to answer it. And then [McAdoo] asked if I would talk to the team for two minutes at the end. The only thing I guess I told them is what people told me the whole time I was playing, something that I did do, was cherish those opportunities with your teammates and the camaraderie.

“It’s a special bond you don’t want to take for granted. The good thing is even though I’m not playing, it doesn’t go away. I still have that bond with my former teammates. We had a 10-year reunion in Indianapolis [of the Super Bowl XLI team] two weeks ago and I still have great relationships with my former teammates. Fortunately, those never go away.

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“So that’s just what I encouraged them to do, and like I said, I appreciate the Giants letting me come out.”

Peyton knows the Steelers, the Giants’ next opponent, well. But he said he does not specifically provide Eli with scouting reports, now or ever.

“No, no scouting reports,” he said. “Eli and I always have enjoyed talking football together. We maybe talk once or twice a week at the most. I’ve always tried to be a resource for him. He’s always been a resource for me in years past. So we enjoy talking football, but I’m not doing scouting reports by any means.”

Peyton said he enjoyed the chance to have dinner at Eli’s home in New Jersey on Tuesday night and see his three young nieces, whom he rarely gets to see even though he no longer is playing himself. Peyton lives in the Denver area.

Manning said he is looking forward to watching Sunday’s Giants-Steelers game, but he would not go anywhere near making predictions about how the rest of the 8-3 Giants’ season might go.

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“I think the one thing that we do not need in this world is any more analysts and predictors of football,” he said. “We have plenty. I refuse to add myself to that list. So all I can tell you is I’m pulling hard for him.”

Peyton referenced the fact that many of the most powerful sports television executives in the country were in attendance at the Waldorf Astoria hotel for Wednesday’s lunch, and he mingled with several of them.

But he said he is not ready to say one way or another whether he will explore sports TV work next season. Were he to do so, he would be an extremely hot commodity.

“I haven’t said yes to anything,” he said. “I haven’t said no to anything. I think this year the best advice I got, Tony Dungy has always been a good resource for me, and he said, ‘Hey, don’t sign up for anything right away. Take a year to kind of process some things and reflect.’

“And I’ve really enjoyed this year, being a football fan and doing some things that I haven’t had a chance to do with my family . . . We’re just kind of taking a pause, if you will. So we’ll see what happens in the next chapter, but I really have kind of enjoyed myself this fall.”

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Manning said he attended three University of Tennessee games (his alma mater), as well as Broncos games. He also visited Beijing, Shanghai and the Great Wall of China on an ambassadorial mission for the NFL.

“So I’ve really stayed busy and stayed stimulated at the same time I’ve protected some free time to do some things I’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance,” he said.

Manning joined recently retired Liberty player Swin Cash, who was honored as Sportswoman of the Year, at the event, which annually attracts a who’s who of the sports television industry.

“It’s a tremendous honor, any time you honor people in all sports, and they’ve honored some of my favorite players at this event in years past,” Manning said. “At the same time raising money for a tremendous cause, it’s a win-win, I think. And I think it’s really neat that the event this year is run by all the heads of the major networks that are probably as competitive as the Giants trying to beat the Jets.

“It’s competitive in that field as well, and yet they all come together to raise money for a great cause, and this is a special cause. Eli for the past 10 years has been the celebrity chair of the Greater New York March for Babies, so I know how important this cause is to him and so I’m really honored to be a part of it.”