Manning's game face on

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

PHOENIX -- The most important player in Super Bowl XLII landed here yesterday and took the long, dusty, winding route through cactus country to what looked like it might be the Hole In The Wall Gang hideout at the Wild Horse Pass out Chandler way yesterday.

Wherever it is, it's just about as close as you can come to putting a quarterback and his entire team in the witness protection program during Super Bowl week.

Most important player? Absolutely. If Eli Manning doesn't have a game for the 12 1/2-point underdog New York Giants, then there isn't going to be a game.

"He certainly is the key reason why we're here," said coach Tom Coughlin at the arrival media session at their remote resort.

Manning is here to face arguably the ultimate challenge in Super Bowl history against the 18-0 New England Patriots, looking to become an official fully accredited dynasty Sunday.

"We're going to have to have to play an unbelievable game - probably perfect," Manning admitted, going with 'we' instead of 'me.'

"The greater the challenge, the more exciting it is."

He's the other quarterback on the other team in the Super Bowl, the other quarterback on the other team than the one America wanted to get here to go against Tom Brady and the Patriots.

The people's choice was Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers to go against history, to write the ultimate underdog story, not Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Like Eli's story is so shabby?

He's Archie Manning's other NFL quarterbacking son, with a chance to make it back-to-back brother Super Bowl titles and probably back-to-back brother Super Bowl MVPs to follow the act of his older brother Payton last year with the Indianapolis Colts.

It's hard to imagine the Giants winning this thing without Eli Manning being the MVP.

"That would be nice," he said. "That's the goal."

His dad never played in a Super Bowl during his 13-year career. Now he has sons playing in them back-to-back. Like that's not a story.

"He never got an opportunity to play in a playoff game let alone a Super Bowl. He's enjoying getting to the Super Bowl his own way," he said of his two sons.

Eli said he talked to both his dad and Payton last week and will do so this week.

Yesterday he talked to his mom.

"She said to smile a lot at this press conference."

Manning has certainly earned the respect of the Patriots.

"I think he can make all the throws, manage the team, do all the things you need to do as a quarterback to help your team win. He's done an outstanding job of that," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick when the Patriots arrived Sunday.

"I think some of the throws he made in the championship game against Green Bay, given the conditions and the tight coverage the Packers had on their receivers ... he did just an excellent job in that game.

"I really don't see how you could do too much better than he did, especially given the conditions and the magnitude of the game."

The closest anybody came to stopping the perfect Patriots season to this point was Eli Manning and the Giants in losing the final regular season game to New England 38-35.

"We couldn't do much to stop him with four touchdowns and the way he moved the ball up and down the field. We have a great deal of respect for Eli and what he's done, especially in the latter part of the season," said Belichick.

Manning said it's all been about great timing.

"It's about being in the right place at the right time, with the right teammates and the right coach," he said.

"The team has played well. It's not just been me. The key has been not making many mistakes."

For this one, though, he's expected to be surrounded by a team of wide-eyed, just-happy-to-be-here teammates - if you can call where they'll be holed up all week being anywhere.


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