Peyton Manning: ‘I am excited for New Orleans’

The current Super Bowl week in South Florida began the way the last one ended three years ago:

With Peyton Manning, the Colts and a steady rain all taking center stage at the same time. But Monday also was different.

This wasn’t Manning overshadowing his Bears counterpart, Rex Grossman, in a 29-17 victory in Super Bowl XLI. This was Manning beginning the week of Super Bowl XLIV by sharing the saturated floor with fellow Pro Bowl pick Drew Brees and the sentimental favorite Saints from Manning’s hometown New Orleans, where his father, Archie, was the quarterback from 1971 to ’82.

To win his second Super Bowl in four seasons, Manning will have to deny New Orleans its first title in the first Super Bowl appearance in the franchise’s 43-year history. He will also have to stomp on the hearts of a “Who Dat?” nation that has brought a colorful taste of Bourbon Street with it to South Beach.

“I am excited for New Orleans,” said Manning, who won his record fourth MVP award this season. “It’s a special place to me. My family lives there. … I enjoyed watching the game last week. I surely felt that emotion.”

“The game” he was referring to was the Saints’ 31-28 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at the Superdome Jan. 24. The victory touched off a city-wide celebration, 4{ years after 80 percent of New Orleans was devastated and under water because of Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing catastrophic levee breaches.

“It’s been crazy, it’s been nuts,” Brees said of the city’s mood the past nine days. “The ‘Who Dat!’ nation has been waiting for this for a long time. It’s a long history, and I’m just glad that we were able to give it to them.”

The teams will head to Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday morning to participate in the annual Super Bowl media day, where they will face bizarre questions from oddball characters from outside the mainstream sports media. But the most serious story line of the week will continue to develop as the Colts talk about the status of defensive end Dwight Freeney’s injured right ankle.

The Colts are calling it a “grade-3” sprained ankle. Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell, who was the first to speak when the Colts and selected players were made available to reporters on Monday, indicated Freeney could miss the game.

“We’re preparing as if he’s not going to play,” Caldwell said. “If we get an opportunity to get him in there, we’ll do so.”

Meanwhile, the mood at the Saints’ team hotel was loose as coach Sean Payton donned a bellhop uniform and greeted his players at the front door. It’s a stunt that the late 49ers coach Bill Walsh pulled to break his team’s tension before Super Bowl XVI. The 49ers went on to beat the Bengals that year.

The Colts are 5{-point favorites in a game that’s being billed as possibly the best matchup of quarterbacks since Brett Favre and the Packers faced John Elway and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII on Jan. 25, 1998. Elway won 31-24, preventing Favre from winning his second consecutive Super Bowl title. The Packers were favored by 11in that game.

Saints safety Darren Sharper was a rookie on that Packers team 12 years ago. He left the Minnesota Vikings after last season and became the NFL’s best free-agent acquisition and the final piece to a Saints defense that struggled the past two seasons. Sharper had nine interceptions this season, three of them for touchdowns, was named first-team All-Pro and, oh yeah, made it to his second Super Bowl at the expense of a Vikings team that no longer wanted him.

“I wasn’t able to get the championship 13 years ago,” Sharper said. “But that was a long, long, long time ago. Hopefully, the victory will make it a different week this time.”

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.