Manning relishes chance at super shot

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2007

For 60 minutes the questions came at Peyton Manning, sometimes several at once, on topics ranging from his childhood to “American Idol” to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Facing a semicircle of reporters and cameramen six deep, Manning joked a little, reminisced a lot and seemed to enjoy his first Super Bowl media day.

“I know how hard it is to get here,” he said, “because it has been.”

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Still to come are the 60 minutes that matter most, when Manning’s Indianapolis Colts play Chicago for the NFL title.

But while Bears center Olin Kreutz grumbled that he might prefer a trip to the dentist over Tuesday’s interview marathon, Manning embraced media day as part of what makes the Super Bowl America’s favorite carnival.

“I’ve seen it in years past,” Manning said from a seat along the sideline at Dolphin Stadium, his back to the field. “You always wish you were up here. That’s one of the hard things.

“Not only are you not playing in the game, but you’re seeing other teams play in it that you feel like you had a better team than them, but they were the ones who earned it. We’re glad to be here this year.”

Manning’s counterpart, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, said he also appreciated the media attention. He attracted a much smaller crowd than Manning, but the questions came in a flurry — including one about whether Grossman found such a flurry of questions overwhelming.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Grossman said with a smile. “I’m just talking to you guys.

“It’s a big game. Everyone wants to know all the subplots to it and every little detail. It’s exciting for us that our sport is so popular and people care and will read about what we say and listen to us. It just makes it that much more exciting.”

Grossman is a subplot — an erratic young quarterback who can only hope his biorhythms happen to peak around kickoff. Manning is the biggest story of the week, which is why his interview session drew by far the largest horde on media day.

The game’s most prolific passer is playing in the Super Bowl for the first time at age 30. His father, Archie, was a star NFL quarterback for 14 years who never had a shot at a title. Younger brother Eli has yet to come close in three seasons with the New York Giants.

So Manning relishes the chance Sunday offers.

“You feel a small window of opportunity,” he said. “While we’re here, we sure want to go ahead and win it.”

Flanked by two loudspeakers that allowed even the back row to hear his soft New Orleans drawl, Manning was expansive discussing his family, the challenges of his job and the frustration of failing to reach the Super Bowl in the past.

He balked only at the goofiest questions: Do you watch “American Idol”? Is your touchdown dance ready? Is Eli adopted?

(Manning’s responses: no, not yet and blank stare.)

Then there was the subject of Peyton and Payton. Manning’s dad and the late Bears superstar Walter Payton were rivals but also good friends. When a 3-year-old Manning briefly vanished during a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl in 1980, Payton turned out to be the culprit.

“My parents couldn’t find me for like three hours,” Manning said. “Any parent could imagine what’s that like, not to know where your child is. All of a sudden Walter Payton comes up and he’s carrying me. He’d had me on a catamaran for three hours.

“It’s kind of neat to think of that story, now that we’re playing the Bears this week.”

Reporters chuckled. Cameras clicked. Manning grinned.

To help cope with the circus atmosphere, the two-time NFL MVP said he sought counsel from former quarterbacks who played in the Super Bowl. Some won it, some didn’t.

“I’d rather not disclose the names,” he said. “It wasn’t Ferragamo or Morton or Dawson or Starr or Morrall. You can probably figure it out. I was just trying to have a pretty good idea of what I was getting into during the week.”

This actually will be Manning’s third or fourth Super Bowl.

He was a spectator at the San Francisco-Denver game in 1990 and the Green Bay-New England game in 1997, both in his hometown of New Orleans.

He said he also might have been there as a 4-year-old in 1981 when Oakland beat Philadelphia.

But he hasn’t attended a title game since turning pro and joining the Colts in 1998.

“I’ve been at the past couple of Super Bowls during the week, but I’ve flown out on Sunday,” he said. “It’s a tough day. It’s a good day to be flying, because there’s nobody at the airport, but it’s certainly not what you want to be doing.”

Manning earned a stay until Monday by leading Indy to three consecutive playoff wins, including a come-from-behind victory over New England for the AFC title.

“For Peyton it has been tough, because all his stats and everything else mean nothing until you reach this game,” teammate Dallas Clark said. “He’s finally here, which is great, and hopefully he can enjoy this moment.”

There will be more news conferences through Thursday, but Manning must wait until Sunday to answer the big question: Will he win a ring?

Kickoff is Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. central time.