We had a surprisingly lively Super Bowl party last night, with about a dozen friends and family congregating and sharing in the free-flowing beer, the stacks of pizza and chips and cookies, the silly and often disappointing commercials, and almost as an afterthought, the football. My roommate and I were the only two diehard football fans in the apartment, and he was an especially interested party: as a native of New Jersey, he's spent his entire life rooting for the Giants.
As the Giants regained possession of the ball with two and a half minutes left, down just four points to the heavily favored and undefeated Patriots, our guests were increasingly drawn to the drama being played out onscreen. There was a palpable buzz as Eli Manning started marching his team downfield. We positively came unglued as the young quarterback scrambled out of the grasp of several Patriots rushers, sprinted to an open area, and heaved a deep prayer to unheralded David Tyree. Tyree plucked the ball from between the outstretched hands of defender Rodney Harrison and kept it pinned between hands and helmet as the duo fell to the turf, never allowing the ball to squirt free. A few minutes later there was pure joy and satisfaction, first with the go-ahead touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress and then with the final second mercifully ticking off of the game clock. The underdogs had prevailed, denying the increasingly obnoxious Pats their presumed birthright of immortality.
As that late touchdown drive played out on TV, the frequent camera cuts to Peyton Manning were a compelling sight. Here was the anointed star of the family, the holder of passing records and MVP awards and countless commercial deals, sitting in his suite and rooting unabashedly for his little brother. His brother who had endured ridicule and scrutiny for most of his young career. It's always somewhat reassuring to see professional athletes, who usually guard themselves with a sort of bland and corporate veneer, letting their guard down and just being human.
To salute the Manning brothers, I've posted the only card I know of to feature all three Ripkens. Billy is shown as a rookie; he would hang around to form a solid double-play combo with brother Cal, Jr. for six years. Cal Senior had just gotten his shot at managing a major-league team after spending his entire adult life either playing and coaching in the minors or coaching in the majors. Though Junior never got a chance to sit on the sidelines and root for his younger brother, one of the enduring images of Cal's historic 2,131st consecutive game was Billy (on break from his AAA Buffalo team) cheering him on from behind home plate at Camden Yards.
Of course, the Ripken Boys are keeping it in the family to this day, working together as co-owners of the Aberdeen IronBirds minor league baseball team and preserving their father's memory through the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.