Eli Manning has faced Mike Vrabel before, most notably in Super Bowl XLII. On Sunday, the quarterback will face the former Patriots linebacker again.
Just not actually on the field.
Vrabel is the head coach of the Titans. It will be the first time in his career that Manning will go up against a head coach who has actually hit him in a game.
While neither Manning nor Vrabel seemed that impressed by the reconnection of their careers some 11 years after their most notable conflict (“I guess I haven’t thought about that,” Manning said, “I don’t think it’s too weird”), it certainly will bring back memories for those who have every detail of that Super Bowl tattooed on their brains.
Vrabel said having played against Manning gives him no advantage on Sunday. But he does feel like the 2007 Giants team Manning led to that Super Bowl victory can provide a lesson to his young Titans squad.
“If you look at that team in, I guess it would have been 2007, that Giants team improved throughout the course of the year, even so much that when we played them at the end of the year, it was a very tight game,” Vrabel said. “Then they continued to improve throughout the playoffs, and they played better in the Super Bowl and that’s why they won. That’s always a message I try to deliver to our players that you have to continue to find ways to progress and improve throughout the course of the season if you want to try to get to the postseason.”
Vrabel also said he sees a lot of similarities in Manning 11 years removed from that championship run.
“He’s as clean as you would need him to be,” Vrabel said. “The ball is coming out quick, he does a good job with the quick game, they’ve got an ability to get it out of his hand and he’s accurate.”
Vrabel was impressed by Manning’s athleticism, too.
“They still boot with him,” he said. “I think that was the thing that was probably most surprising as I watch the tape is that they’re still able to move the pocket and get him on the edge, create a different launch point for him throughout the game.”
Vrabel last played in the NFL in 2010, but he does come across a few players from his playing career every so often. In fact, he has two on his current team.
“We have two players that I was teammates of in Kansas City: Ryan Succop was a young kicker and Kendrick Lewis was a young safety,” Vrabel said. “So it’s kind of how it goes. To be able to play and coach against Eli and some of the other guys still in the league, I’ve just got a lot of respect for those guys.”