If you ask Eli Manning how a second Super Bowl title and accompanying MVP have changed him, he'll say it hasn't. He's still the same hard-working quarterback, just trying to get better. Even at his most candid, he refuses to acknowledge any difference.
"It probably changes the way I'm viewed," he concedes in an interview for NFL Films' "America's Game" documentary on last year's Super Bowl championship. "I don't think it changes the way I view myself."
But those who are closest to Manning have noticed something about him since he walked off the field in Indianapolis last February, making that big jump from Super Bowl-winning quarterback to two-time winner. He's shown flashes of that in his public persona, as well. More assured. More at ease.
"He's not the same as when I first got here," said backup quarterback David Carr, who arrived with the Giants in 2008, the year after the Super Bowl XLII victory. "He's way more confident. I think he's taken more of a leadership role and I think it's not something that's forced, it's just a natural deal. I think that he expects more out of himself, more out of his teammates, and he knows what it takes to win and he voices that."
In the matter of a few months, Manning has gone from a progeny to prodigious in his own right. A year ago, folks chuckled at his boast of being elite, but now he is easily placed among the tops in the game. Even Tom Coughlin, who normally distances himself from any comparisons, couldn't help but note the gap between Manning and the competition. The Giants coach was asked this weekend if he had any doubt that Manning was the best quarterback in the NFC East. "No," he said quickly.
Manning has the pelts to prove that. He's the only starting quarterback in the division with a Super Bowl ring (never mind two). He's the only one to have played in a Super Bowl, period.
"I think he's continued to get better as he's been in the league," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "He has constantly improved the little things . . . Each year, he gets a little bit better."
It's hard to imagine a year better than 2011. He threw for a franchise-record 4,933 yards -- the sixth most by a quarterback in NFL history -- and a record 15 of his 29 regular-season touchdown passes were in the fourth quarter.
He's earned the nickname "Easy E" for his calm under pressure, but even this season, Carr said he's seen more easiness that normal.
"I find that he's more relaxed," Carr said. "Not that he was ever stressed before, but he's very confident, very comfortable in what he's doing and knowing what the guys around him should be doing. That's glaringly obvious to guys who play. He's never rattled, never confused about anything. It's a pretty comforting feeling if you're playing with him."
And undoubtedly a comforting feeling when you are him. Manning's remarkable run included becoming a father, a Pro Bowl season with a Super Bowl title and even included a trip to the White House and playing for yucks on "Saturday Night Live." There's only one thing that could top all of that: topping all of that.
"That's all fine," Coughlin said of Manning's numbers, accomplishments and honors. "It's behind us. We talk constantly about improvement, about getting better."
Now that would be a change Manning would admit to.