For Colts' Peyton Manning, it could be Separation Sunday

THE SUPER BOWL

The Indianapolis quarterback has already set himself apart in NFL history by becoming the first four-time MVP. Next on his agenda: becoming a two-time Super Bowl winner.

February 07, 2010|By Sam Farmer | The Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Miami Gardens, Fla. — Peyton Manning doesn't like to waste time. So, for instance, when the Indianapolis quarterback runs on the treadmill, he doesn't just chug along like everyone else. He practices the two-minute drill while jogging, gesturing and calling out plays as he racks up the miles.

"The first time I saw that I was like, 'What is he doing?' " Colts guard Ryan Lilja said. "I'd never seen that before, but then I realized it makes perfect sense. This guy is a next-level thinker."

For one NFL team -- either Manning's Colts or the New Orleans Saints -- the next level is just four quarters away.

If Manning the multi-tasker can complete his Super Bowl XLIV to-do list today (3:15 p.m. PST, Ch. 2), he will have guided his team to a second Lombardi Trophy in four years and put himself squarely in the discussion of who is the greatest quarterback of all time.

But that's only half the tale of this Super Bowl, which pits the history-book quarterback against the storybook Saints, a franchise that wears the heart of its storm-ravaged community on its sleeve.

"We certainly understand that we may not be the team that everybody is cheering for in this game," said Manning, whose team is a 4 1/2 -point favorite. "We're OK with that."

If his team weren't facing them, Manning might be pulling for the Saints. He grew up in New Orleans, where his family still lives, and his father is legendary Saints quarterback Archie Manning.

After his playing days ended, Archie worked as a radio color analyst for his old team, and would routinely bring his three sons -- Cooper, Peyton and Eli -- to watch practice.

When Peyton was in high school, former Saints coach Jim Mora would allow him to step into the huddle during casual workouts and run some plays. Archie said that helped his son become the player he is today.

"If Jim hadn't let him come out there and be around high-level athletes, Peyton wouldn't have been able to play his first year at Tennessee," said Archie, whose three sons attended Isidore Newman, a private school in New Orleans with an enrollment of about 320 in the upper grades. "Peyton played 2-A football. He loves his teammates to death, but none of them were college prospects or fast. You don't play at Newman High one year and Tennessee the next year without in between being able to work out with some faster guys, college and pro guys.

"Peyton always loved going out there [to the Saints]. He was always a sponge."

Lots of things separate the Colts quarterback from his contemporaries, among them an unprecedented four most-valuable-player awards, an NFL-record seven consecutive 12-win seasons, and astounding durability (missing only one play because of injury over 12 seasons).

Not only that, but Manning has more control over calling plays than any modern quarterback. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore doesn't call plays, he makes broad suggestions.

Asked whether he's ever been surprised by a call or adjustment that Manning has made at the line of scrimmage, Moore said: "No, never. Never, never. . . . He's got the freedom and, as I say, whatever he does is the right thing."

This season was arguably Manning's best. He set an NFL record with seven fourth-quarter comeback victories, beat the Miami Dolphins despite having the ball for only 15 minutes, and -- after No. 2 receiver Anthony Gonzalez suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener -- quickly transformed young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie into big-time threats.

In winning the MVP award for the fourth time, Manning joined basketball's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), baseball's Barry Bonds (seven) and hockey's Wayne Gretzky (nine) as the players with the most such awards in their pro sports.

Mora, who would later coach the Colts and make Manning the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft, believes the Indianapolis quarterback might already be the best to ever play.

Today, Manning can certainly take a step in that direction in the minds of others.

For his part, Manning consistently has sidestepped the question of where he belongs in the pantheon of great quarterbacks.

"I had no idea I'd ever get a chance to play in the NFL," he said. "So I have been counting my blessings every day since I have been able to play competitive football. The fact that I'm in my second Super Bowl, I consider myself very lucky.

"Having to wait nine years in order to play in my first Super Bowl certainly taught me not to take anything for granted."

It also reminded him of the value of time. And using it wisely.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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