You’d have better success getting Peyton Manning to chug Powerade than reflect upon Super Bowl XLIV.
This quickly became evident at Monday’s opening of Indianapolis Colts training camp. I opened our interview asking whether Manning has reflected upon and learned anything from that crushing, 31-17 loss to New Orleans.
Demanding he spill embarrassing childhood secrets about his brother Eli would have provided more fodder. In other words, Peyton wasn’t saying much.
“I don’t know. I really don’t do it a whole lot, especially at this point,” a stoic Manning said. “We’ve kind of moved on and are thinking about this season. You certainly try to be a better player, a better team than you were the year before.”
Manning then began waxing about the 2010 Colts before my line of inquiry reverted to how long it took for him to emotionally recover from what unfolded in South Florida.
“I don’t really have a good answer for you there,” he replied.
Manning did acknowledge watching the game after the fact. Pressed for more details by another reporter, Manning bristled and said, “Once again, boys, y’all are going into the past here.”
I waved the white flag. No matter how the Super Bowl questions were phrased, this was a trip down memory lane that Manning simply won’t take.
I don’t blame him. From a historical standpoint, Manning isn’t remembered for shouldering a heavier burden than any other Super Bowl quarterback. His biggest accomplishments — an unprecedented fourth MVP trophy and becoming the first signal-caller to reach the Super Bowl with the league’s worst rushing offense — also are overshadowed.
The lasting impression of Manning’s efforts will be of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter returning an interception for the game-clinching touchdown. The last remaining career-long criticism Manning was on the verge of finally dispelling — that he isn’t a great postseason performer — suddenly came roaring back.
After a four-hour nightmare, Manning experienced just how Tom Brady felt after the 2007 New England Patriots fell short of perfection in Super Bowl XLII.
“He’ll obviously look back someday and say, ‘That’s good, but it’s not good enough,’” Colts tight end Dallas Clark said of what would have been the greatest quarterbacking season in NFL history. “That’s with everyone’s individual stats and accolades. We have to do something more, something better, tighten something up.”
Manning also knows nothing good can come of lamenting what could have been when the Colts must worry about what will be in 2010.
“I think he’s fine,” Colts general manager Bill Polian said. “There’s no indication at all that it’s bothered him. It’s business as usual.
“We’re professionals. We recognize there’s no point in dwelling on the past. Whatever lessons there are to be learned, learn them. Put them down in the book and move on."
The Colts began emphasizing that point when dejected players returned for offseason workouts. Although the routine can grow monotonous after 12 NFL seasons, Manning was given some new challenges. The first was recovering from neck surgery. Manning then focused on strengthening his bond with new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, who was the club’s wide receivers coach the previous eight seasons. Manning said Christensen was previously responsible for providing a script of third-down and red-zone plays to Tom Moore, who has since shifted to an advisory role. Christensen, though, never made the final in-game decision himself on what to call.
Manning also noted the enjoyment he gets working with younger players like wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie as their relationship continues to grow. But while the Colts’ offense fielded a one-dimensional passing offense in 2009, Manning hopes there will be a renewed emphasis on the running game led by an offensive line disparaged by Polian following the Super Bowl loss.
“When we’re at our best and feel the most comfortable is when we are pretty balanced and have the defense on their heels saying, ‘Man, are they going to throw it or run it? We can’t figure it out,’” Manning said. “Last year, we were more one-sided. They weren’t fearing the run quite as much. That’s what we’d like to get back to as an offense (and) how I prefer to play.
“Through the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed out of good pass plays — one-on-one matchups to Dallas or Reggie (Wayne) or Marvin (Harrison) — to a run play where we’d gash for 12 yards. It’s something I’d like to get back to. It takes pressure off the quarterback (and) the offensive line from having to pass protect every single time.”
Personally, Manning finds himself in a situation that he faced only once before in his NFL career. He is entering the final season of what was a landmark seven-year, $99.4 million contract signed in 2004.
While that payout still would be a jackpot for some current NFL starters (even by today’s inflated standards), the salary bar was raised even higher when St. Louis’ rookie quarterback Sam Bradford agreed to a contract that includes $50 million guaranteed before his first snap. Colts owner Jim Irsay said he intends to sign Manning to a new deal but is reticent until knowing the salary-cap parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement that must be finalized with the NFL Players Association.
Just like the fallout from Super Bowl XLIV, Manning isn’t sweating it.
“Probably one thing I’ve done as much as anything consistently over the past 12 years is make it a policy not to talk about my contract,” said Manning, who, according to Sports Illustrated, earned $31 million in football salary and commercial endorsements in 2009 .
“For one thing, it keeps another thing from clouding your mind. It’s served me pretty well. I don’t see much reason to abort that now. I’m under contract. I’m in a good frame of mind mentally. I’m excited about this team. It will work out. I don’t get into the numbers or see how that has any affect on me. I’ve got too much football to deal with,” Manning said.
Anticipating that he would downplay the Super Bowl fallout, I asked Irsay for his take on Manning’s psyche.
“He takes it in stride,” Irsay said. “It’s a part about greatness, consistency and pushing yourself to the Hall of Fame. It’s about overcoming adversity.
“You can look in the rearview mirror, but just don’t stare. You’ve got to move on.”
In that regard, Manning has already put the pedal to the metal.