INDIANAPOLIS - Eli Manning has his own way of keeping things light.
Frequently, it involves victimizing Victor Cruz.
After the Giants arrived yesterday, Cruz was getting himself ready for the first day of media obligations, getting showered, putting his good clothes on. Manning was in the prank-pulling mood.
He started with Cruz’s face towel.
“I had it up, and I was taking my shower and I go back,’’ Cruz said. “And I go to wipe my face and it’s soap all on my face, man.
“That’s the first time I’ve caught him. That’s the first time I knew it was him. He walked past and as soon as I wiped my face, he gave me a smirk. So I knew it was him.’’
It’s always something. Baby powder in the cleats. Dye in his receiving gloves.
Cruz said, “He’ll come up and say something slick like, ‘How’re your hands doing today.’ ’’
Last week, Manning emphasized how important it will be to take a businesslike approach to their Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots. Prior to leaving the East Coast around 11:30 a.m., with only a few hundred fans sending them off, the Giants held a walkthrough.
But there’s a difference between being focused and being tight.
There’s absolutely no question where he gets it. His brother, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, found ways to torture him when they were kids. Eli is just passing them along.
“His most popular move, he would pin me down and take his knuckles and knock on my chest and make me name the 12 schools in the SEC,’’ Manning said. “I didn’t know them all at the time, but I quickly learned them. It was a great learning technique. I don’t suggest anyone else try it out, but it definitely made me learn the schools of the SEC. Once I figured those out, he moved on.
“There were 28 teams in the NFL at that point. So all teams in the NFL. I had to get my studying on for that. Then once I figured that out, the one I never got was the 10 brands of cigarettes. When he really wanted to torture me and knew I had no shot of ever getting it, that’s when I just started screaming for my mom or dad to come save me, or maybe [brother] Cooper. That was his go-to move.’’
If Manning can lead the Giants to a win Sunday, he’ll have two Super Bowl rings to wear, one more than Peyton.
No one wants to see him do it more than Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who said, “It would be a great endorsement for the quality of football player he is.’’
When Tom Brady said Sunday that he hoped there would be more people at the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory celebration than there were at the team’s send-off at Gillette Stadium, the New York media played up Brady’s premature party planning.
But for the Giants, it was a lot of fuss over nothing.
“I read his exact words and the way he phrased it,’’ linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. “You get to this level and you get to this game because you’re confident in yourself. Now, if somebody wants to come out and throw some legitimate trash talk, we’ll talk about that. But it’s just, you guys need something to do for the week, I guess.’’
Safety Antrel Rolle, an impressive trash-talker himself, said none of it matters.
“The game has to be played on Sunday,’’ he said. “That’s going to be the only thing that determines the outcome of the game. No talk, no media, no speculation, no parties are really relevant at this point.’’
But Rolle couldn’t resist making his own boast.
“We wouldn’t have boarded the plane if we didn’t expect to win,’’ he said. “I think that is the bottom line. We have come here for one thing and one thing only which is to win. We are expecting to win this game come Sunday.’’
Herzlich on high
Linebacker Mark Herzlich tweeted yesterday, “2 yrs ago I was told I might never walk again. Just WALKED off plane in Indy to play in The #SuperBowl.’’
The undrafted linebacker from Boston College was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in May 2009, and returned to play for the Eagles in 2010. He was signed by the Giants, made the team, and played in 11 games, making 12 tackles.
Fellow BC alum Chris Snee said he met Herzlich when the Giants played the Falcons in 2009.
“We spoke for a few minutes, we didn’t have a long meeting, but I just told him that I was amazed at how he was persevering through everything he was doing,’’ said the Giants’ starting right guard. “He was so positive at the time I had met him, and he said that he’d be out here one day and he is. It’s just a credit to him that he never got down. He just constantly believed that he would survive and play at this level.’’
A real handful
When asked about defending the Patriots’ tight ends, Rolle called Aaron Hernandez “Gonzalez.’’ He quickly corrected himself and apologized. He complimented Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, saying of the latter, “I think he just pretty much does it all. He has great hands, great run and catchability. He just finds a way to get open.’’ . . . Defensive end Justin Tuck, who was on the Super Bowl team that beat the Patriots four years ago, passed along this advice to players making their first appearance: “Lock in. We didn’t come here to enjoy the festivities. We came here to win a football game. Approach this as a business trip. You do not want to feel the agony of defeat in this game. Even though I haven’t felt it, I’ve talked with a number of people who have. Their words of describing it, it’s something I know I don’t want to feel.’’ . . . The Giants arrived yesterday to surprisingly high temperatures, approaching 60 degrees. “We all packed as if we were coming into snow country,’’ said Coughlin . . . Coughlin also made a bid to get the home crowd - long accustomed to rooting against the Patriots - on the side of the Giants, saying, “I would think that the Indianapolis fans would now become Giants fans.’’Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.