There may be more than a few people who are having a tough time hashing out their loyalties for Super Bowl XLIV. They’ll be watching a pair of quarterbacks, though, who are about as decisive as it gets.
Peyton Manning(notes) faces his hometown team, once quarterbacked by his father, as the Indianapolis Colts try for their second title in four years Sunday at Miami in a matchup with Drew Brees(notes) and a New Orleans Saints team making its Super Bowl debut.
Three years ago, Manning won his first championship, leading Indianapolis to a 29-17 win over Chicago in South Florida. He’s returning to the same site, this time to face a team that has deep roots in his family.
New Orleans is the city where his father, Archie, played and still lives. Manning played at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, as did his brothers, Eli - who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants two years ago - and Cooper.
If Manning can outduel Brees in what has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring Super Bowls, many fans in New Orleans will certainly be celebrating their hometown hero’s accomplishment.
“New Orleans is a huge part of my life, as well as Eli’s life,” said Manning, who became the only four-time league MVP this season. “My dad’s been a part of the Saints organization for 39 years in some ways. We definitely have strong ties.”
Despite those ties, the Saints (15-3) have the undying loyalty of New Orleans natives, perhaps as much for their role in helping rebuild the city following Katrina as their success on the field.
New Orleans, still in recovery mode, has gotten a boost from the Saints’ rise to prominence. The 43-year-old franchise has never appeared in the Super Bowl.
“It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time,” Brees said. “The job is not done yet but obviously we’re going to enjoy this. Now we’ve got to finish it in Miami.”
If the Saints win, parts of northwest Indiana will be cheering.
Near the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, 65 miles from Indianapolis, loyalties are split. Brees remains an icon in the area after leading the Boilermakers’ revival a decade ago.
Brees led the NFL with a 109.8 passer rating, throwing for 4,388 yards and a league-best 34 touchdown passes. He threw for three TDs as New Orleans won the NFC championship game 31-28 in overtime against Minnesota on Jan. 24.
With plenty of options offensively, New Orleans led the NFL with 31.9 points per game. The Colts were seventh, averaging 26.0 points.
“You understand just how explosive their offense can be,” Manning said. “I think you have to be careful trying to get out of your rhythm in order to keep up with them. You still have to go play offense the way we have played all year, trying to be efficient. We have been excellent on third down, been good in the red zone. Those things will be important this year.”
Manning once was criticized for his failure to win big games, but he’s won six if his last eight playoff contests. He’s led the Colts to a 16-2 record this season, and they may have been perfect if Manning and other starters weren’t rested by first-year coach Jim Caldwell in the final two games of the regular season.
After finishing 2009 second in the NFL in yards passing (4,500) and TD passes (33), Manning was masterful in beating Baltimore and the Jets - two of league’s best defenses - in the postseason. Manning has a 104.6 passer rating in the playoffs, throwing a total of five TDs and one interception.
Manning passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns against the league’s top-ranked defense in the AFC championship game, leading Indianapolis to a 30-17 win over New York on Jan. 24.
Colts defensive leader Dwight Freeney(notes), though, suffered a torn ligament in his right ankle, which has been keeping him out of practice. The All-Pro defensive end, who led Indianapolis with 3 1/2 sacks, expects to play but it could be in a limited role.
Freeney’s absence would be a big blow to the Colts, who ranked eighth in scoring defense (19.2 points per game) during the regular season and have been impressive during the playoffs.
New Orleans ranked 20th in scoring defense, giving up 21.3 points a contest, and has surrendered a total of 42 in the postseason. The Saints, though, have been opportunistic, forcing 39 turnovers during the regular season and seven in the playoffs.
Against one of the NFL’s top offenses in the NFC title game, New Orleans intercepted Brett Favre(notes) twice and recovered three fumbles. However, Favre wasn’t sacked in that contest and the Saints have one in two postseason games.
Though Manning was sacked 10 times in the regular season, New Orleans’ only chance defensively may be to find a way to pressure him. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams created a buzz by saying the Saints will try to put some “remember-me hits” on Manning.
To help out their defense, New Orleans may focus a bit more on running the ball in an attempt to control the clock and keep Manning off the field.
Pierre Thomas(notes) led New Orleans with 793 yards on the ground during the regular season, but Reggie Bush(notes) is the Saints’ most dynamic player at that position. Bush has been relatively disappointing as a running back since being selected No. 2 overall in the 2006 draft, but he’s been a more physical runner in the postseason and he can make big plays as a receiver and a returner.
Bush has run one TD apiece rushing, receiving and returning in the postseason.
“They have really good backs, fast backs with Reggie Bush,” Colts linebacker Clint Session(notes) said. “We try not to get a lot of separation with a guy like him in the open field, so we’re probably playing him a little tighter than normal.
“We have to know the beast, as we call it. Know the beast, respect his speed, and try to keep a close eye on him.”
Bush was held to 38 yards on 12 carries, seven yards on four receptions and two yards on one punt return in the last meeting between the teams, a 41-10 Colts win Sept. 6, 2007. Manning threw for 288 yards and three TDs - two to Wayne - while Brees was picked off twice and finished with 192 yards.