Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Ninety minutes later and 30 miles west, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow would hold another of their dual, (dare we say) circuslike media sessions -- engulfed by journalists and monitored by public-relations people.

But there was Eli Manning on Wednesday, standing by his locker, placid as always, answering a few questions about the Buccaneers until the cameras cleared and straggling writers asked their follow-ups.

Less than six minutes in, it was over. No PR person to cut off the inquisition (something now routine among New York sports stars), no drama, no angst, no . . . nothing. Just me looking around and asking Eli where everyone went.

"It's just the norm; you answer your questions and you move on," the reigning Super Bowl MVP said with a shrug.

When I pointed out not every athlete is so relaxed in the New York media glare, he laughed. "I think over the years it's worked well," he said. "We haven't had many problems, so no issues."

The secret Manning has learned -- in part from the ultimate master, Derek Jeter -- is that as long as you are cordial and accessible and most of all careful, there is no need to stress over people brandishing recorders and microphones.

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"Exactly," he said. "Answer the questions and forget about them and go do your job, preparing and playing the game . . . I kind of have an idea what's going to be asked and have a plan and you just go."

This is the point in such columns where I acknowledge coaches and players are paid to win, and fans do not much care how they handle the media.

And this is the point where I mostly agree but argue that in New York in particular, teams benefit from coaches and star players who can navigate the ever-more-treacherous shoals of media hot water.

If you think having a man such as Manning as the face of a franchise that values stability is not a comfort to management, coaches and teammates, with all due respect, it is your right to be wrong.

Let's ask Troy Aikman, shall we?

The Fox analyst, who will work Sunday's Buccaneers-Giants game, is a veteran of a fishbowl of his own as the Cowboys' voice-of-reason quarterback through the 1990s.

Now that was a circus.

"I think it's helped him a lot," Aikman said of Manning's drama-free approach. "You know he's going to handle himself appropriately. I think that's important for the quarterback on every franchise, especially in New York."

Aikman recalled learning on the job in Dallas. He said that while Emmitt Smith might be asked about personal goals, Aikman would field "organizational-type questions" about the crisis du jour.

"I'd be asked, 'Hey, what do you think about Michael [Irvin] and the problems he faced?' " he said.

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TV announcers often see a more candid side of athletes in pregame production meetings than do journalists, but Manning is careful there, too.

Aikman said he noted Manning's demeanor from the start, not knowing if it was passed down from father Archie and/or brother Peyton, or perhaps was just his personality.

"Whatever it was when he was 22 years old hasn't changed now that he's 30 [actually 31]," Aikman said.

Joe Buck, Aikman's partner, said Manning will "sit there and talk forever" in production meetings but always is in control of what he says and how he says it.

"He's kind of the Derek Jeter of the Giants, because he can say a lot and not say anything on some occasions -- and that's a compliment," Buck said. "He can answer questions and not step on the wrong tile and have it explode in his face like some people do.

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"That's a skill. Jeter has it and Eli has it and that really, really helps their lives."

Not to mention the lives of everyone around them.