- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

MIAMI — Peyton Manning already had earned a place in the NFL record books. His omnipresent commercials already had made him the face of the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback, however, had not put himself in position to seal his spot in history until he landed his team in pro football’s biggest game.

Surrounded by a sea of microphones, tape recorders and cameras at yesterday’s media day for Super Bowl XLI, Manning appeared as relaxed as anyone who was on the verge of fulfilling expectations nine years in the making could be.

“I’ve seen [media day] in years past, and you always kind of wish you were up here,” Manning said. “Not only are you not playing in it, but seeing other teams and maybe you feel like you had a better team than them but they were the ones that earned it that year. I always felt like I would have a chance to play in this game, that our team would eventually be good enough.”

Manning was the first pick in the 1998 draft following a stellar career at the University of Tennessee, though he didn’t win a national championship. As a pro, Manning led the Colts to the playoffs six times in his first eight seasons.

Every January, however, ended in disappointment.

“The media makes a bigger deal out of Peyton’s legacy than he does or other players do,” center Jeff Saturday said. “This is about our football team winning the Super Bowl. Peyton is a great quarterback, and he’s got to do his part and do his job. I’m absolutely confident he’ll do that. We’re about winning Super Bowls, not about writing history.”

Fran Tarkenton and Y.A. Tittle also waited many seasons for a shot at a championship. They are the only quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame to wait as long as Manning for a chance to compete in the Super Bowl or an NFL title game. The bad news for Manning, who also is destined for Canton, is that those Hall of Famers finished a combined 0-6 in championship games.

“I know how hard it is to get here,” Manning said. “I would’ve hoped to have been here earlier. We’ve had good football teams, had some chances in the playoffs, and it just didn’t work out. You certainly want to take advantage of the opportunity if you can. You feel a small window of opportunity. The days of building for next year are long over with, and you better try to do it while you have the chance.”

And yet, Manning said his poor history in big games hasn’t added extra pressure to beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

“My dad [told] me when I was a kid, ‘Pressure is something that you feel only if you don’t know what you’re doing,’ ” Manning said. “I really abide by that.”

And by a rare work ethic.

“Peyton has been resilient in getting better year in and year out,” offensive tackle Tarik Glenn said. “For someone who’s won two MVP honors, he really doesn’t have to do that.”

Manning, the son of longtime NFL starting quarterback Archie Manning, always has been dedicated to the game. Bears coach Lovie Smith served as Tennessee’s defensive backs coach when the Vols were recruiting Peyton Manning. Smith recalls how Manning spurned campus parties for the chance to spend more time with offensive coordinator David Cutliffe.

“Peyton works hard, and he’ll continue to work hard to get better,” offensive coordinator Tom Moore said. “That’s his makeup.”

Also in his makeup are the innate abilities of a pro quarterback, including what Bears All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs termed “almost perfect ball placement.” But as Manning has matured into “America’s Quarterback,” he has become more of a leader.

“These past couple of weeks Peyton has been really vocal with the fact that we don’t want to do anything to mess up our opportunity of winning a championship,” Glenn said. “We’ve got something good going. We’ve built up momentum. Let’s go out and finish this thing the way we want to finish it.”

If Manning was finished today, his stats still would be impressive.

At 30, he already has passed for 275 touchdowns, fewer than only five Hall of Famers plus Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. He has thrown for 37,586 yards, a total that ranks 13th.

At his current pace, Manning will top Dan Marino’s records for touchdowns in five years and yards in six.

But Manning doesn’t want to join Marino as a great quarterback who never won a Super Bowl.

“What we have is an opportunity,” Manning said. “You don’t want to take it for granted. I know how hard this team has worked to earn this opportunity. Somebody asked, ‘Does [beating the Patriots] make up for the other [playoff] losses?’ It really doesn’t. Those were different teams and opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. The game is one you hope you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

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