By Ernie Palladino
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The teams are in, and the madness that is Super Bowl week has started. It is a week where no detail is too small for a story or a sound bite, a week where childhoods are relived on interview podiums, family tragedies explored amid a flock of microphones and television cameras, and glories both past and expected lived before the horde of bowing media.
For this Super Bowl, though, there is only one real story. No, not the weather, though that subject undoubtedly will be allotted a fair amount of space as we close in on Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. kickoff. The only real story of this game involves the Denver quarterback, Peyton Manning.
You know, Eli’s brother. The guy playing the biggest game in Eli’s house.
Everything else is ancillary to this one, big story. Denver’s receivers versus the Seattle secondary, especially if the mouthy Richard Sherman draws the elusive Demaryius Thomas or the wily Wes Welker, is merely secondary to the man who will command the spotlight whenever that offense is on the field. All controversies over the Broncos’ offensive line and the officials’ perceived kid-glove treatment of that group won’t matter a speck as long as they keep Manning’s uniform clean.
It all has to do with star quality. And Peyton Manning is the nova that burns brightest in a league where quarterbacks reign over the NFL universe. The league changed its rulebook to bring that position into the forefront, and no quarterback has been more successful overall than Manning.
Sure, you can point to Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl rings, Brady’s three, or even brother Eli’s two, and argue that Peyton’s one pales in comparison. But one cannot downplay the elder Manning’s regular season successes, where his stats overshadow everyone else’s. Keep in mind, too, that since his first playoff season of 1999 with Indianapolis, Manning-led team missed the postseason only once until neck surgery sidelined him for the whole of 2011.
He came back, with Denver, and threw for 4,659 yards and 37 TDs in a 13-3 2012. And now here he is, after a record-setting 55-touchdown season, a 13-3 record, and two rousing playoff victories.
Young Russell Wilson is turning into a fine, exciting quarterback. And sure, he’s a story, as is Sherman’s big mouth and the overall ferocity of that Seahawks’ defense. But it all pales compared to Manning.
He is the star here, no doubt. And if there is any extra treat in store for the viewing audience besides seeing this master of the audible work his receivers through the Seahawks’ defense, it will occur only if Denver falls behind. Manning, fueled by both will and skill, is also the master of the comeback, as his career record 40 indicates.
Other than that, the real magic of Super Bowl XLVIII will happen as Manning steps to the line and begins his endless string of verbal and physical commands, proceed as the ball is snapped, and end with the ball zipping into the hands of Eric Decker, or Julius Thomas, or Wes Welker, or Demaryius Thomas, or even Knowshon Moreno.
None of it will be new. Indianapolis fans remember Manning doing the same thing over and over and over again with Marvin Harrison and, later, Reggie Wayne. Those were the guys who built the foundation of Manning’s legacy.
Sunday, he’ll get to finish off the whole house. For all the regular-season stats and trips to the playoffs, and his certain Hall-of-Fame status, it seems his edifice still needs a roof. Win this one, and he’ll have it. Anything else that comes in the small football future he has left will simply go toward interior decorating.
So forget the madness of Super Bowl week. Don’t bother with the entertainment TV pests who will wander around the Prudential Center on media day tomorrow dressed in heaven knows what, asking who knows what stupid question to get a rise out of the Broncos and Seahawks. Disregard those space-filler stories about the backup tackle’s experiences as a college walk-on.
The only story this week revolves around one quarterback whose surname is quite familiar around these parts.
He’s the star this week.
The only star.
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