Manning keeps it serious

Colts star quarterback, at 30, focuses on his first chance to win championship

Super Bowl

January 31, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

MIAMI -- With this year's Super Bowl theme "One game, one dream" hanging over his right shoulder, the Colts' Peyton Manning primarily kept his game face at yesterday's media day.

This wasn't the commercial Manning, the one who has cracked up fans with lines like "Cut that meat."

This was the all-business Manning, a quarterback who has the look of being on a personal mission.

"Certainly, you feel a small window of opportunity," Manning said five days before the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. "You realize the days of building for 2008 are long over with. You better try to do it when you have the chance. While we're here, we sure want to go ahead and win it."

With four dozen cameras aimed his way and several hundred reporters crowded around his station - the most of any player yesterday - it officially had become the Peyton Manning Super Bowl.

He has become the sentimental favorite of this year's event because of his dramatic story line: He is the best quarterback who has yet to win a Super Bowl.

Acknowledging that he has begun the second half of his career at age 30, Manning doesn't know when he'll have another opportunity to escape the club of great quarterbacks who failed to capture an NFL title. Sunday could determine whether history will remember him as Favre or Fouts.

"Peyton will be ready for this," center Jeff Saturday said. "Basically, he's been preparing his whole life for this."

Few football players faced the same kind of annual playoff scrutiny as Manning did during the Colts' six failed playoff appearances.

When asked about feeling more pressure to win after finally reaching the Super Bowl, Manning recited a saying of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll. "Pressure is something that you feel when you don't know what you're doing," he said.

But there's no denying that Manning has felt the stinging criticism of coming up short in big games.

"When the Colts lose, I'm 100 percent to blame; when we win, it's simply the Colts won," Manning said. "We ought to have it one way of the other. We can't have it both ways."

Measuring his words during his hourlong chat with reporters, the usually stoic Manning tried to avoid most of the off-the-wall questions that have characterized Media Day.

He offered a short "thank you" when Entertainment Tonight gave him an unofficial Susan Lucci Award, which was named after the soap opera actress who was nominated 18 times for a Daytime Emmy before winning with her 19th nomination.

He quickly brushed off two castoffs from American Idol when they asked him if he watched the show.

And he initially danced around a question from an Access Hollywood reporter who asked which actor should play Manning in a movie.

When the reporter suggested Matt Damon, Manning said: "He's too short. I need someone with more size, like a young James Garner. He's a throwback - that's more my style."

Image is important to Manning, a second-generation quarterback who has become the ambassador of the NFL.

He recounted how John Elway will be remembered for his throws back across the middle of the field, how Troy Aikman will be thought of for his classic drop-back and how Dan Marino will always be linked to his quick release.

Manning seemed embarrassed about what might be his lasting image.

"With me, it's like me picking my nose or pointing at my eyes when I'm calling out plays at the line of scrimmage," he said. "But it's something that we do."

Leading up to the biggest game of his nine-year career, Manning has received support from friends and family through phone calls, voice mail and even text-messaging.

Former Colts coach Jim Mora left Manning a five-minute voice mail wishing him luck. His old high school coach gave him a call last Tuesday and told Manning that he had a heart attack just before the AFC championship game.

"He said that game made him a little more nervous and probably didn't help his heart all that much," Manning said. "But it kind of got him through it when we won."

Now the question is whether Manning, after overcoming his playoff hurdle, can complete his mission.

"I certainly would have liked to have been here earlier," Manning said. "You want to take advantage of the opportunity. It's one that you don't want to take for granted."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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