Super Bowl: Peyton finally wins the big one

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 4, 2007

By Tim Dahlberg

Associated Press

MIAMI — He did it on a night when the rain fell, the wind swirled and Prince not only sang about rain but was drenched in it. He did it when everyone around him seemed to have trouble holding onto the ball and his team fell into a familiar early hole.

It never was going to be easy for Peyton Manning. Somehow, it never is.

Then again, breaking curses is never easy. It isn’t supposed to be, not if they’re to be truly vanquished.

You can file this one away alongside the curse of the Bambino. Because a Manning finally won a big one.

Thirty-six years after his father threw his first pass for the forlorn New Orleans Saints, Manning exorcized the demons of two generations Sunday night and washed away the many failures of football’s first family of quarterbacks.

He wasn’t about to acknowledge it, though, because he wouldn’t acknowledge there was a curse to begin with.

“I never played that card,” Manning said. “I don’t play that game.”

That was left to others, who wondered aloud as the years piled up whether a family so talented would ever succeed when it mattered the most. That was left to others, who questioned whether Manning could be the best quarterback in the game if he hadn’t won the big game.

His father heard the talk, even if his son tried hard not to listen. Years of losing toughened Archie Manning’s hide, but it’s different when it’s your kid.

“As a parent, it hurts,” Archie Manning said.

But this wasn’t Archie Manning playing 15 years without a winning season. This wasn’t Eli Manning throwing wildly downfield for the New York Giants after being drafted No. 1 to lead them to the big game.

For sure, this wasn’t the Peyton Manning who had come close before but always seemed flustered or overwhelmed when it really mattered.

“It’s the hardest job in sports, in my opinion, playing quarterback,” he said.

He wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be. All Manning had to do was take a deep breath, calm down and be himself.

With his dad and brothers watching from a suite upstairs, Manning did just that after a jittery opening series that included two false starts and ended with a Chicago interception.

The Colts already trailed 7-0 when that happened. In living rooms around the nation Indianapolis fans had to be eyeing each other warily while replaying flashbacks in their minds of last year’s playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Manning came back with his only touchdown pass to a wide open Reggie Wayne, then settled down to take command of a conservative offense more fitting of the other team but perfectly fitted to a wet field and ball.

“No panic. We stayed calm throughout the entire game,” Manning said.

The stats looked mediocre, considering what Manning has put up in his nine years as a pro. He threw for 247 yards and had as many interceptions as touchdown passes.

But it was enough to get him the MVP trophy and a spot on the raised stage on the 50-yard line to celebrate with his coach. It was enough to make a lot of skeptics believe what his coach believed all along.

“If you think you have to win a Super Bowl to be a great player, that’s not it,” Tony Dungy said. “He was already a great player.”

There’s little doubt of that now. By winning the Super Bowl, Manning answered the last remaining question about a career that will now surely end one day in the Hall of Fame. He won a game and a ring, and won one for his family.

About the only thing he didn’t do was shout this one out in Market Square in Indianapolis: Peyton Manning CAN win the big one.

That was left to a woman in a yellow rain poncho who held up a sign that said “Yes He Can” as the final seconds ticked off.

Manning being Manning, he didn’t want to talk afterward about redemption, didn’t want to stray much from the obligatory comments about the entire team playing hard and everyone being happy. He promised to be an even better quarterback next year.

He planned to celebrate with his family, especially with his dad, who never got to do that during his own NFL career, mostly with the New Orleans Saints, with little talent around him.

Archie Manning seemed almost happier than his son. He talked about Peyton growing up playing baseball, basketball and football and how the family watched his teams win many different games.

“We felt like he’d won a lot of big ones,” Archie Manning said. “But the Super Bowl, that’s what you play for when you tee it up.”