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Super Bowl Champs Kickoff 2012 Campaign

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Eli Manning (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Eli Manning (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Eli Manning is no longer living in
the shadow of his big brother. Far from it.

The New York Giants quarterback enters the kickoff to the NFL
season against the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday night as a two-time
Super Bowl MVP. He’s now unquestionably among the league’s elite
after leading Tom Coughlin’s team to two titles in five seasons,
and a third title is a distinct possibility with the 31-year-old
seemingly getting better coming off a career season.

What’s even more impressive is Eli is still Eli. He’s
hard-working, laid-back and looking for nothing more than doing it
better than the year before.

“Each year you try to improve and get better,” Manning said
during training camp. “There’s definitely room for improvement.
There’s no question about it. Most of the things I’m working on
are: decision making, eliminating turnovers, and being more
accurate. Just continuing to try and work on my skills. Making sure
you don’t have any missed opportunities. That when guys are open,
I’m hitting them.”

Former Giants center Shaun O’Hara said most people don’t realize
how hard Manning works. He usually is one of the first players at
the team’s headquarters in the morning and stays as long as anyone.

“What adheres everyone to Eli is the way he approaches the
game,” O’Hara said Monday. “His confidence is never shaken. He
knows his own abilities and his own limits. He comes to work every
day and puts in the time. He never says, `I got it. I don’t need to
work on that.”’

O’Hara said Manning doesn’t take much time off. In February and
March, when most of his teammates are vacationing, Manning comes to
the office and watches every snap from the previous season, O’Hara
said, adding the work ethic rubs off on everyone.

“That’s one of the best qualities of a leader, to lead by
example and to bring people together to accomplish the same goal,”
O’Hara said. “That’s what Eli has done and has had fun doing it.
He’s not a screamer and yeller. He comes in here and has fun and
let’s guys make fun of him. He’s approachable and doesn’t put
himself above anybody.”

O’Hara cracked up a couple of people when during his retirement
speech on Monday, he joked how Manning made him change his football
pants each half because they were too sweaty.

One of the major reasons the Giants missed the playoffs in 2010
despite a 10-6 record was that Manning threw 25 interceptions. He
worked on ball security in the offseason and finished 2011 with 29
touchdowns and only 16 interceptions in a year in which he threw a
career-high 589 passes.

Coughlin said Manning has all the intangibles a coach wants in
his quarterback.

“You name it. He’s intelligent and he’s got great pride,”
Coughlin said. “He has a burning desire to be the best that he can
possibly be. He has great timing. He has the ability to understand
exactly what you want to do and what the defense is doing. He’ll
talk to you about it and get the ball into the right receiver. He
does a great job in the classroom. He does a great job representing
the Giants. He has outstanding character. He has outstanding
leadership. People listen to what he says.”

Former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, who signed with the
Giants in the offseason, has spent the past six months trying to
get on the same page with Manning. When the quarterback is eating
lunch, Bennett pulls up a chair.

In the preseason finale against the Patriots, Manning and
Bennett weren’t on the same page on a third-down pass. Manning
threw a deep seam and Bennett cut off his pattern.

Seconds after the pass hit the ground, Manning was standing in
front of Bennett discussing the play.

“It won’t happen again,” Bennett said.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, a former quarterback, said Manning
is a major reason why the Giants have had success.

“He’s an outstanding pocket passer; he can move around and make
plays on the move,” Garrett said. “He’s a very smart player. He
can make any throw that you need to make on the football field. He
clearly makes his teammates better, makes his team better.”

While not the buffest of players, Manning is as tough as they
come. He has started the last 130 games for the Giants, a run that
dates to his rookie season in 2004. He has led New York to five
playoff berths and three division titles in his seven full seasons
as a starter.

“We know we have to improve,” Manning said. “We were 9-7 last
year in the regular season and that’s not good enough. We’re a
better team than that, and we obviously showed that throughout the
playoffs. We’ve got to have that urgency and consistency throughout
the whole season, play our best football through 16 regular-season
games.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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