His white uniform couldn't have been more covered in grime, dirt and muck if he did mud angels in the middle of Candlestick Park. Eli Manning looked battered, beaten and forever unbowed.
The other Manning is back in the Super Bowl, set for a rematch with the New England Patriots, the franchise he shocked to win the big game four years ago. There's little doubt about it now.
Not after Eli threw for more than 300 yards in conditions that would have made the best thoroughbred mudder turn up his hooves. Not after he dropped back to pass 64 times, took every hit (more than 20 of them) and delivered again and again and again.
Pretending that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than his older brother because Kyle Williams pulled a Jacoby Jones is absurd.
Not after he solved a San Francisco 49ers defense that made the Baltimore Ravens' unit that so befuddled Tom Brady look like the JV team by comparison.
It's more than clear now. Peyton Manning is still the better Manning, the more complete quarterback, the more driven winner.
Yes, Peyton. Don't be fooled by the Super Bowl hype, by the rush to anoint the new and discount the great.
Pretending that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than his older brother because Kyle Williams, a backup punt returner, pulled a Jacoby Jones, robbing his team of a legitimate chance to win the big game, is absurd. It's like feigning that Kristen Stewart is a better actress than Meryl Streep because she lucked into making a lot of money in the Twilight movies.
Eli Manning played gutsy and reasonably well on a day when he was the Giants offense (New York gained 352 total yards on a day when Eli threw for 316 and accounted for 17 of the team's 20 first downs through the air). But if Williams doesn't one up the Houston Texans' Jones and fumble two punts away, including the overtime killer, the Giants are not walking out of Candlestick 20-17 winners.
There would be no rematch of Super Bowl XLII, arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever, the game in which Eli and the Giants used a lucky helmet catch to spoil the New England Patriots' bid for a historic 19-0 season. And no one would be talking about Eli as the better Manning.
How quickly everyone forgets.
Sure, Peyton Manning's future is very much in doubt with that neck injury (or he's already retired if you listen to Parks and Recreation standout Rob Lowe). And yes, even if he does come back to throw some of those pretty spirals, there is a good chance he'll be shipped out of Indianapolis in favor of Andrew Luck.
You'd have to be as lovably batty as Ann Mara to legitimately think that Eli Manning is better than Peyton.
But he's still freaking Peyton Manning. A four-time NFL MVP. A quarterback legend who's thrown for almost 55,000 yards. A force who has racked up 399 touchdowns.
Little brother simply isn't in his league — even if they are now tied for Super Bowl appearances (two) with Eli having the chance to add a second ring first. In Indianapolis, Peyton's town, of all places.
Peyton Manning made the trip to soggy San Francisco to cheer little brother on, along with all the rest of the Mannings (oldest brother Cooper Manning included) and he seemed genuinely happy for Eli, even though part of it all probably felt like a slap. Little brother's legacy has never looked better, while his own football life has never seemed more in doubt.
Eli's built a heck of a career for himself in New York, won the love of a town where he was once thought of as far too quiet to ever be a leader. He's an important part of the Giants' rebirth under Tom Coughlin, the key piece which everything falls into place around. But he's never had to carry a team, let alone a franchise, like Peyton Manning.
The Giants are in their fifth Super Bowl since 1986, and like the previous four, this one is built with the aid of a stout defense and plenty of supporting stars. Peyton Manning's never consistently had the defenses that Eli Manning's enjoyed playing with. The one year the Colts defense played lights out in the playoffs, Peyton won his Super Bowl.
If his coach hadn't been completely oblivious to the possibility of an onside kick, he probably would have won another one too.
You'd have to be as lovably batty as Ann Mara, the widow of former Giants co-owner Wellington Mara, to legitimately think that Eli Manning is better than Peyton. There was Mara hounding Fox's Terry Bradshaw during the postgame, actually making a postgame worth watching. Mara would not let up on Fox's motor mouth, butting in as he tried to interview Victor Cruz with "You never pick the Giants" for all of America to hear.
Ann Mara is quirkily lovable. Just like football fans who think that Eli is the better Manning.
They may not be all that grounded in reality, but they're having a hell of a grand old time.