Eli Manning said he and his brother Peyton haven’t slept in the same household for a few days since Peyton was back in college and would come home to visit. But when the two NFL star quarterbacks reunited this week, it wasn’t where they grew up in New Orleans or where they play in New York or Denver.
They came to Duke to live and train with their former college coach, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, who has known Peyton since he was 17 and Eli since “he was going to the theater to see the Lion King.”
“It’s a home away from home,” Cutcliffe said. “We come out here, and it comes right back to coaching them. That’s the relationship, but now we can walk off the field, get in the car and become the best of friends.”
Cutcliffe was the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for Peyton when he played at Tennessee from 1994-97. There he first met a 13-year-old Eli, who he later mentored as the head coach at Ole Miss from 2001-04.
Both are now Super Bowl MVPs and will make a combined $40 million for the 2013 season but came back and asked Cutcliffe to coach them as if they were freshmen in college again.
“That’s the way he’s always coached me. That’s why we come back here,” Eli said. “It’s always a great source to have and somebody to talk to, who tells you the truth—not what you want to hear but you need to hear.”
Eli was last at Duke two years ago during the NFL lockout. Peyton was in Durham more recently, spending parts of five months living at Cutcliffe’s home and training as he rehabbed from a serious neck injury that kept him out for all of the 2011 season.
A free agent at the time, he wanted to work with somebody he trusted to oversee his rehab and return to the NFL. More than a coach, though, he sought a teacher.
“There’s some coaches that coach, and there are some that coach but also teach, and he’s always been a great teacher,” Peyton said. “That’s really why I came to work with him last year, and why we chose to work with him this year.”
The Mannings are part of Cutcliffe’s family while in town, staying at his house with his wife, Karen, running the ship. Cutcliffe noted Peyton apologized to Karen for leaving his room slightly messy, but it was no worry—Karen already had someone coming in to take care of it.
Eli joked that his brother could have done more to chip in after staying with the Cutcliffes for so long last year.
“I asked if he was paying rent, who was doing laundry or if he was helping out with any of the bills and whatnot,” Eli said. “We have a lot of fun, and it’s really nice of them to host us for a few days.”
Both Manning brothers brought teammates to join them for the mini-camp in Durham, and they worked alongside a handful of graduating Blue Devils. Peyton came with Bronco wide receivers Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and newly-acquired Wes Welker. Eli was joined by Giant wide receivers Victor Cruz, Louis Murphy and Hakeem Nicks.
Blue Devils Jackson Anderson, Jordon Byas, Tony Foster, Desmond Scott and Conner Vernon joined the star-studded NFL crew. Vernon, a wide receiver, is expected to be the first Blue Devil taken in the NFL Draft since 2004 and had the opportunity to work closely with the Manning brothers and their elite wide receiver teammates.
The pros weren’t just at Duke to enjoy the 80-degree Durham weather and hang out—they had two-a-day practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before finishing off with a morning practice Thursday that they took more lightly after the rigors of the first two days.
“We got everybody so tired and sore that we didn’t want to overdo anything [Thursday],” Cutcliffe said. “They like the fact that the reps are full speed here. It’s demanding.”
Working with their teammates and the Blue Devil coaching staff, the Manning brothers focused on their fundamentals. Cutcliffe equated their work together to a golfer going back to an old swing coach.
The difference between when they were in college and now is that they argue a bit more, though Cutcliffe gets to play by his rules. After all, they’re staying in his house.
“When we’re in Denver or New York that might be different,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m feeding them and housing them.”
The Mannings’ praise for Cutcliffe as a coach, friend and teacher was nothing short of effusive. More importantly, he gave the brothers a second home and a rare chance to bond.
“We don’t get much time together so we cherish it,” Eli said.