INDIANAPOLIS – MVP quarterbacks on marquee franchises. A rematch of a nail-biter from four years ago, featuring many of the same key characters. Madonna and plenty of Manning — Eli, and Peyton, too.
This Super Bowl certainly has all the makings of another thriller, the perfect finish to a season that began in turmoil and wound up the most successful in league history.
The NFL couldn’t have planned it any better.
“It’s actually been a very fun week here,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, seeking his fourth Super Bowl ring in 11 seasons, and doing it in the city where archrival Peyton Manning has worked for 13 years. “It’s a bit surreal to be playing in Indy’s home stadium and to be practicing at their facility.”
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It’s been even weirder for Eli Manning to have led the Giants here, only to find his superb season and chase for a second championship overshadowed by big brother’s drama with the Colts.
The most popular storyline this week has been Peyton’s pain in his neck. Or, rather, his status following three neck surgeries in 19 months; whether the Colts will keep him around, at the cost of a $28 million roster bonus due in March; and whether he’s truly feuding with owner Jim Irsay’s rebuilding organization.
Eli, who will surpass his brother for NFL titles with a victory today at Lucas Oil Stadium — yes, Peyton’s Place — claims his sibling’s issues are irrelevant to this game, in which New York (12-7) is a 3-point underdog.
“I’m proud of Peyton. I’ve talked to him this week. None of that comes up,” Eli said. “When I talk to Peyton, he does a great job of trying to keep me relaxed. (We) talk a little football and talk about New England some. He’s supported me this week. I know he’s just working hard trying to get healthy and I’m going to support him on that.”
While Eli would own two championships with a win, to one for Peyton, Brady would tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with four. Coach Bill Belichick would equal Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll with four each.
To get the title, the Patriots (15-3) must protect their crown jewel. Four years ago, Brady was banged around so much by New York that it turned the Super Bowl in the Giants’ favor.
Yes, they needed David Tyree’s miracle pin-the-ball-against-his-helmet catch, then Plaxico Burress’ touchdown reception to shatter New England’s perfect season. But that victory was built on the relentless pressure applied to Brady.
The formula hasn’t changed.
“We feel that we certainly have a very strong group of men in the front,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It’s just the way we play and prefer to play.”
Brady remembers the pain, physically and emotionally, from the beating he took.
“Any time you lose, it’s a tough thing,” Brady said. “We’ve lost one Super Bowl. I remember waking up in Arizona the next morning after an hour of sleep thinking, ‘That was a nightmare, that didn’t happen.’ After time, you learn to move on and get over it.”
The Giants got all over Brady again during their 24-20 regular-season win at Foxborough, the last time the Patriots lost. That victory preceded a four-game slide, and New York eventually slipped to 7-7 before turning around.
Adding to the juicy potential of a down-to-the-wire reprise of 2008, both teams barely made it to Indy. The Patriots needed Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff to miss a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime. The Giants used two botched punt returns by San Francisco to win in overtime.
“We feel very fortunate to be here, and I’m pretty sure they do, too,” Patriots Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “But we also know we deserve to be here, and they know they deserve it. We are two very good and very confident teams.”