Monthly Archives: February 2007

WANTED: Team Mom

Things that wouldn’t happen if I were Team Mom:

Colts running back Rhodes arrested for drunken driving

Clark ejected from prep game

This makes me very sad. Way to go boys on representing the Colts organization in an upstanding citizen kind of way. As my mother always told me, I love you, but I don’t always love the things you do. Being a Super Bowl Champion does NOT make you above the law (I realize Dallas didn’t break the law, but still). Act responsibly and think of your family.

These things, on the other hand, make me very happy:

Colts make DE Freeney club’s franchise player

Dungy says he’s coming back to defend the title

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T.E.A.M.: Together Everyone Achieves More

This is a long one folks, so if you don’t make it to the end, I’ll understand.

I started out this season with one number in my head: 20.That’s how many regular season and post season games a team has to play to win the Super Bowl (assuming no first round bye in the playoffs); the last four have to be wins and a good number of the other 16 have to be as well. So as the weeks went on, I counted down: 20, 19, 18, etc. The two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, I had the number one in my head constantly. Just one more, guys…that’s all that’s left.

I’ll admit I had my doubts that this would be the season we made it to the Super Bowl much less won it. I mean really what part of NO RUN DEFENSE does one have to know before you stop believing it’s possible. At first, I thought the loss of Edgerrin James would do them in; that we would have a rebuilding year of sorts, then the tandem of Rhodes and Addai came to fruition, and I gained more hope. (Really how cool are those two guys. They pat each other on the back and do their jobs brilliantly.) We could have chalked it up to the injuries on defense, sure, because there were many…but I saw the bad run defense in the opening game of the regular season against the Giants BEFORE the injuries. Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs ran all over them, but the offense found a way to keep the Colts out in front. But the running just never stopped as team after team just kept running and running and running. I thought it was footage from Forrest Gump that never made it in the movie. We were ranked 32nd in run defense in the league and NO TEAM has ever won the Super Bowl being ranked that low. We allowed 100+ yards in all 16 games and gave some has been running backs the games of their careers (read: Ron Dayne). I held my breath more than a couple of times this season on games so close I was losing years off my life just watching them. We were winning the hard way on 2 minute drills, game winning field goals (or their missed field goals), and a chance interception here and there to stop the opponent’s final drive. I learned more than once what “you only need to win by 1 point” and “winning the hard way” meant. Amazingly, we never went to overtime in any game.

Peyton even started to slump, he started to throw interceptions when the ball never should have been thrown (even though he ended the regular season with the fewest interceptions of his career) or he would make bad reads and get sacked (even though the offensive line ended the season allowing the fewest sacks in the league).

Side Note: A common misconception about Peyton: he DOES NOT have happy feet. He moves his feet (Dance Revolution Style) constantly once the ball is snapped to keep himself mobile in case he has to run (heaven help me…it scares me when he runs). It’s not that he doesn’t trust his O-Line; he just always feels the need to be ready to run.

His receivers and tight ends would drop passes thrown right to the numbers (he had double the dropped passes this year than he had last year). The Jaguars game in December was the full team meltdown that I think they’d all been escaping all season. Sometimes though, a loss is a blessing in disguise. Sure they’d lost 2 games before that, but not as horribly as that Jaguars game. And, although they lost another game after that, I think the Jaguars game was kind of a wake up call to say, we’ve been going along like this, keeping the faith that everything would work out in the end, but somewhere along the lines they needed to do their part, too and finish plays. I, myself, even gave up on the season somewhere around the Tennessee loss. I wasn’t completely gone. I just firmly believed that if we (the entire team…all three units) continued to play the way we had been (just getting by and not finishing plays) then there was no way we could make it all the way to February. I felt a little bit better after the Bengals game, and I had to kind of brush away the loss to the Texans because really, we’d beaten them 9 straight times…eventually something had to give.

And then came the playoffs…

My goodness could the NFL have given them a bigger mountain to climb, not nearly as big a mountain as the Steelers last year starting as the 6th seed, but still…an uphill battle. The 32nd rated run defense against the #2 (by yardage) running back in the league…Are you kidding me??? Win that one; you get to go play the Ravens with the #1 defense in the league. Seriously??? Win that one, and you get to play either the Chargers (thought to be the most complete team in the league) or the Patriots (Sheesh…not again).

I was so scared the day of the Chiefs game that I was walking around just going through the motions and not really paying much attention to the world around me. But then the first ball was snapped to Trent Green, he handed it off to Larry Johnson, and Larry Johnson went no where. HUH??? WHAT??? Oh ok…that was the first play…there’s no way we can keep this up all game. And then the next play, and the next play, and the next play…It didn’t stop…3 and outs for the Chiefs until nearly the end of the 3rd quarter. Who would have guessed that? Not this girl. Larry Johnson was held to 32 yards. (No…I didn’t forget to put the 1 in front of that.) Peyton on the other hand played like…well like a rookie. He threw 3 interceptions, 2 were to Ty Law, the NFL player with the most career INTs off of Peyton (9 now). He was out of sync with Marvin Harrison, and I really just thought…well ok…we can beat Kansas City because the defense played like they should have been all season, but we can’t beat Baltimore without Peyton playing better than that. Colts 23, Chiefs 8

Favorite Quotes from the game:

“It’s not like we’re going to hold Larry Johnson to 12 carries for 25 yards,” Tony Dungy the week before the game. (He was right: Larry Johnson was held to 13 carries for 32 yards.)

“I told Ty Law I’d be happy to introduce him at the Hall of Fame,” Peyton Manning after throwing his 8th and 9th INT to Ty Law in the game

“Our receivers did really well with the ball when I threw it to THEM,” Peyton Manning discussing his poor passing performance during the game.

Favorite Play from the game:

Well my favorite play of any game is if/when Peyton gets to take a knee to run out the clock, but in this game it was the first play from scrimmage for the Chiefs when the Colts defense didn’t let Larry Johnson go anywhere. I breathed a slight sigh of relief at that point.

On to Baltimore…Oh my goodness…what a horrible week that was leading up to the #3 offense playing the #1 defense. There were about 2,000 articles about the Mayflower moving trucks that week. I was already tired of hearing about that dead-of-night move before the Colts played the Chiefs, but I mean this was crazy and getting out of hand. Good-natured grudges are all well and good, but this was like hostile and violent almost. So naturally, it didn’t stop me from being nervous about the game. I wasn’t sure what the weather was going to do. We’d been having mild weather for a couple of weeks by then and I was hoping for it to stick around at least long enough for the game to come and go. Still, rain was predicted for the game, and that concerned me. Little did I know I had nothing to worry about. Plus, I was so afraid of what Ray Lewis would do to Peyton that I was in a foggy haze. Then the game started and there was no turning back. We were in it for 60 minutes…or at least our special teams was. 🙂 Peyton reduced his INTs from 3 to 2 for this game. Dallas Clark came up HUGE as did Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. They all caught some MAJOR passes that kept us in the game and ahead of Baltimore. The offense kept getting into good enough field position for Adam Vinatieri field goals and the defense was keeping McNair out of the end zone, but I still didn’t really breathe until Adam kicked his last field goal. The last field goal being the one that has Coach Tony Dungy naming Adam, “Money.” 18 down 2 to go. Colts 15, Ravens 6

Favorite Quotes from the Game:

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan asked his fans for five seconds of quiet each time Indianapolis lined up for an offensive play. The reasoning behind Ryan’s request was to allow his defense a chance to make quick defensive calls and adjustments before the Colts snap the ball. Dungy, however, didn’t mind the quiet if Baltimore fans want to afford them the opportunity.

“I did hear that. And so we kind of said the same thing. We’re going do all our communication in those five seconds. We’ll yell as quick as we can the plays and see if we can get them out in five seconds,” joked Coach Tony Dungy.

“There were a lot of middle fingers on the bus ride here tonight,” Peyton Manning about the hostile environment and Baltimore fans.

“Take it out on the owner. From what I understand, it was one man’s decision and that man is no longer living. Everything I’ve read about him, I don’t think I’d have liked him very much. I was eight years old when it happened,” Peyton Manning responding to the Baltimore v Indy history.

Favorite Plays of the Game:

Dallas’s catch for 13 yards and a first down that kept our offense out on the field to drown the clock.

Joseph’s lateral to Peyton which resulted in a Marvin Harrison reception for a 1st down. I’m trying to figure out if there is any uncatchable catch that Marvin can’t make. Sometimes he drops the easy ones, but he always seems to come up with the ones that no one should be able to catch.

My favorite field goal of the night was the 51 yd FG that hit the cross bar and went over. Vanderjagt’s would have bounced off and out not in.

On to New England…I kept trying to figure out the whole time leading up to the Patriots/Chargers game which team I wanted to win. Did I really want to go to San Diego and play LaDainian or did I want to have the Patriots come to Indy and have to play the playoff version of the team? Since there was nothing I could do about it, I just hoped that we played well in the AFC championship game against whoever we played. I was sick all day that Sunday leading up to the game not to mention that I had a very bad drive home from church that afternoon because the snow started earlier than it was supposed to. At that point, I was thankful that we had the head to head lead on the Patriots and didn’t have to play this game in New England because if it was snowing here, there’s no telling what it was doing in Massachusetts. I won’t explain the entire game here as I’ve done that in a previous blog already. But suffice it to say, by the end of the night, I was indescribably thrilled. There are only two other times in my life that I have felt joy greater than I felt that Sunday night: (1) the day I was baptized and (2) the day Nelson was born, in that order. Colts 38, Patriots 31

Favorite Quotes from the Game:

“I don’t get into monkeys and vindication. I don’t play that card,” Peyton Manning after being asked for the gazillionth time whether making it to the Super Bowl validated his career.

“People ask me if this is how I wanted this game to go, and I say, ‘no, I’d have taken 35-0 or playing Oakland,’” Peyton Manning during the AFC Championship trophy presentation.

“It’s a shame we have to go to Miami, we should just go to Fort Wayne and play this off,” Tony Dungy after being asked about playing the I-65 Super Bowl against their neighbors to the north, Chicago.

“INTERCEPTED. The Colts are going to the Super Bowl,” Jim Nantz after Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady’s pass with 24 seconds left on the clock.

Even better: “We’re going to the Super Bowl! We’re going to the Super Bowl!,” Indianapolis radio announcer and voice of the Colts, Bob Lamey.

Favorite Plays of the Game:

The touchdown to Dan Klecko in the 3rd quarter (and the 2 point conversion that only Marvin could catch) as well as Jeff Saturday’s fumble recovery in the end zone in the 4th quarter that finally tied the game. (Jeff’s spiking of the ball was just so darned satisfying.)

The 52 yard pass to Dallas Clark in the 4th quarter that lead to Adam’s final field goal of the game.

The 32 yard corner-route pass to Brian Fletcher on the Colts’ final drive of the game.

Joseph Addai’s touchdown that finally put us ahead after 59 minutes of game time.

And naturally, Marlin Jackson’s interception. I loved the fact that he thought about running but just collapsed onto the field so he wouldn’t lose the ball. I was already pretty much out of breath at this point, but Marlin sent me into hyperventilation.

On to the Super Bowl…I had little twinges the week before the game, but I never got really sick until the teams ran out on the field. There were parts of me that thought, they’re not going to give this up. They made it this far, they’re bringing it home. But there were Bears players that scared me. I was scared of which Rex Grossman would show up. He’s the scariest kind of quarterback…the inconsistent quarterback. How do you prepare for that? Is the good Rex or the bad Rex going to show up. Prepare for the good, hope for the bad. Brian Urlacher didn’t play in the last Colts/Bears game a couple years ago, so I didn’t really know what to expect. He’s a great athlete and fantastic at his position, so anything could have happened. Devin Hester had run multiple kickoffs back for touchdowns this season and I knew our special teams wasn’t good at return coverage. I had reason to be concerned. And then there was the weather. Rain favors the offense and specifically the running game. Peyton tends to get pass happy when he gets flustered and doesn’t rely on the running game like he should (see playoff game against the Steelers last year). So I was nervous that the rain would unnerve him and he would try to pass all night. On that one, I had nothing to worry about.

I had secretly hoped leading up to the game that we would lose the coin toss even though we got to call it. Every post season game we’d played to that point, we lost the coin toss and look how those turned out. So, Adam calls tails and in my head, I’m chanting heads, heads, heads. I’m probably the only Colts fan in the world who was excited that we lost the coin toss. Then the moment Adam’s foot hit the football on the opening kickoff, I knew. I just knew. I don’t know why I did, but I did…and it happened. Devin Hester, 92 yards, touchdown. First ever opening kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. I also knew that the game was not going to end at 7-0. Colts turn…Peyton ended the first drive with an interception. His only one for the whole game, but at least it wasn’t costly as the Bears went three and out on the next drive. Peyton threw a beautiful 53 yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne, and I felt better. Then the PAT happened or didn’t actually. Hunter Smith (love you buddy) fumbled the snap and Adam Vinatieri was forced to take the ball and basically fall on it. After that the rest of the first half was basically, a touchdown by Chicago, a touchdown and a field goal by the Colts, and five more turnovers between the two teams before Prince even started tuning up his guitar. I lost count of the total fumbles (lost and recovered).

The second half I was still unnerved as we were only up by five starting out. First drive of the second half, we get a field goal. Adam had missed the one right before halftime and you’d think the world was coming to an end the way the announcers talked about it. Do people forget that he has missed in the post season before. In fact, the 1st New England Super Bowl run, he missed a field goal in the AFC Championship and in the 2nd NE Super Bowl run, he missed 2 field goals in the Super Bowl and one in the divisional round. He’s not perfect and if you repeat that he hadn’t missed all post season this year every time he walks on the field to kick, quite frankly, you’re inviting a miss. In any case, by the end of the third quarter, we had added two field goals and the Bears had added one. Peyton along with mainly his running backs (Joseph and Dominic) were busy drowning the clock as neither the team nor I was sitting pretty with a five point lead. With a little over eleven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Rex Grossman threw an interception to Kelvin Hayden (in the game for an injured Nick Harper) and Kelvin ran it back for a touchdown. We were now ahead by twelve, and I was a little more relaxed. Then on the very next drive, Rex Grossman throws another interception to Bob “what knee injury” Sanders with roughly 10 minutes left on the clock. On their final drives, the Bears never got past midfield. I was only sad that Peyton didn’t get to take a knee at the end, but knee or no knee, we won the Super Bowl. Colts 29, Bears 17

I waited 11 years to see Tony Dungy have Gatorade dumped on him. I waited 13 years to see Peyton Manning win “the BIG one.” I waited 9 years for the Colts to have 53 players that could play as a team. In the grand scheme of things, I know lots of people have waited a lot longer than I have for the Colts to win the Super Bowl, but I enjoyed every minute of it: validation, vindication, monkeys gone, whatever you want to call it…it was worth the wait.

I was proud of Peyton accepting the MVP award on behalf of the entire team because that 60 minutes was what we had all been waiting for during the 19 previous games. The number 20 in my head had been reduced to zero (which I somehow realized when Kelvin intercepted the ball. I realized there was no next game. This was it.). I was sad that I’d given up on them after the Tennessee game, but realized that the way the team was playing after that game was not the way they were playing now. And that other team was the one I gave up on. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t take back any of the losses because I think they helped us. I wouldn’t take back any of the interceptions Peyton threw in the post season because it made the defense work that much harder. I wouldn’t take back the utter depression I felt at halftime of the AFC championship game because the joy I felt after the second half was worth it. I know Peyton has said he’d have taken 35-0 against the Patriots, but if I had it to do over again, this is exactly how I would have scripted every single play.

Favorite Quotes from the Game and Beyond:

“Super Bowl Champion Tony Dungy,” Rich Eisen on NFL Gameday. “Say that, again,” Tony Dungy coming to join NFL Gameday for a postgame interview.

“I wanted to be on a TEAM that won the Super Bowl, and I’m just proud to be a part of this team,” Peyton Manning during postgame interviews.

“We wanted to win this one for our coach,” Peyton Manning during a press conference following the game.

“We’re going to Disney World,” Tony Dungy and Dominic Rhodes.

“I want to thank Peyton Manning and the offense for making me the least used player at my position in the history of the game,” Hunter “the Punter” Smith at the Colts Homecoming Rally at the RCA Dome. (This was Hunter’s 8th season. He has punted 472 times in regular season play. That’s an average of 3.7 times per game and 59 times per season. He punted 47 times this season, a career low. Only the NE punter had fewer punts for the season with 43.)

Favorite Plays of the Game:

Matt Giordano’s never give up play on the opening kick off return against Devin Hester. He didn’t catch Devin until the end zone, but the boy just never gave up and still pulled him down. Didn’t save the 6 points, but good grief, how many other defenders do you know who wouldn’t just pull up when the guy crossed the goal line? Nice hustle, Matt. Two seconds earlier and you’d have had him.

Reggie Wayne’s 53 yard touchdown pass. It was a thing of beauty. After all he’s been through this season with his family, it was a beautiful cap on the season to see him make it to the end zone. (His 6 receptions for 137 yards the next week in the Pro Bowl made me VERY happy!)

Dominic Rhodes on every play he was in the game for. He would make a fabulous contractor because apparently there isn’t one brick wall anywhere he can’t run through.

Kelvin Hayden’s interception returned for a touchdown.

And that’s it. If you made it this far, I commend you. Thanks for sticking it out for the long haul. Everyone else, I understand your giving up because this blog post (as most of them are) was mainly for me.

My final thought…

I’ve waited a long time to say this as I was there 9 years ago when it was the 1st, but…

With the 32nd pick in the 2007 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts pick…

Stay tuned!

In Adversity and Victory: To God Be The Glory, ALWAYS

The Colts organization and especially Tony Dungy has been professing their faith for a long time (years before this season ever started). Not only were they saying that they had faith in each other and weren’t giving up, but they weren’t at all afraid to lay it all out there to say that God deserved all the praise and glory for what they were able to accomplish. They even praised Him for the struggles and trials they were going through during and after them. It’s a testament to the kind of person that Tony Dungy is that he would instill those kinds of values and beliefs in his players because he is a Christian and knows what is most important. I just had to share because there was more than a football game won on that field Sunday night. I, as a Christian, am grateful that there are people like Tony Dungy out there who are willing to stand in front of the 3rd largest television audience ever and say God is responsible for the victory Sunday night (and I’m not talking about the game). Satan was horrified Sunday night over God’s latest celebration. All that to say that I find it as no surprise that this was the scene in the locker room following all the trophy presentations and on field celebrating:

Colts owner Jim Irsay, holding the Lombardi Trophy in the team’s locker room shortly after the game ended, asked coach Tony Dungy to gather the team for a post-championship prayer as soon as he walked into jubilant scene. And, in the middle of the celebration that had the locker room buzzing after the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl XLI victory, Tony Dungy had an announcement. They were not leaving Dolphin Stadium without one more piece of business.

A prayer.

Dungy, saying the team would end its season the same way it began, called the team together at the center of its Dolphin Stadium dressing area. He asked members of the media to turn off their television cameras and huddled the Colts together. The interviews with maybe a dozen reporters still lingering stopped. The pictures players were snapping of each other holding the Lombardi Trophy needed to wait.

“Wait a minute, Coach. Some guys are in the showers,” someone yelled from the back of the pack as players made their way to the center of the room. A few seconds later, Bob Sanders and a couple of others emerged wearing towels.

“You lead us,” punter Hunter Smith said as he pointed at Dungy.

“Me?” replied the coach humbly.

“You,” Smith said, confidently nodding his head in appreciation of the man who became the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl.

Then it was so quiet the proverbial pin drop could be heard.

Dungy prayed.

Players knelt around Dungy and friends, family members (including Dungy’s son) and Colts officials crowded into the jam-packed room. With the team’s chaplain by his side, the Colts coach gave thanks for the players’ health, expressed joy that the team stayed together through adversity. Holding hands, the team joined him in unison to recite The Lord’s Prayer.

After the prayer, Dungy left his team laughing. Dungy referenced the team’s long year that began in March, and repeatedly talked about the faith around which so many of the players rallied. He reminded them of his Saturday night speech. “We said there were going to be some storms,” he said. “We just didn’t know they would come on the first play of the game.” But the Colts didn’t crumble. “Like we’ve done all year, we just fought, hung tough and everybody did their job,” Dungy told his players. “And when everybody does their job, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

To close the session, one player in the scrum of what seemed like hundreds of people crammed into the room prompted his teammates for a “world champs” chant.

And to the delight of the room, the players obliged. “World champs on three,” went the yell.

And the room responded: “One … two… three…. world champs.”

(Combined reports by Beau Dure and Jarrett Bell)

There is no doubt in my mind that had the Lombardi Trophy NOT been sitting in that room with them, that they would still have ended their season in that locker room this way: Thanking God for EVERY blessing He has given them (trials and successes). So even if you begrudged the Colts winning the Super Bowl for whatever reason, I would hope upon hope that Christians in this world would be thankful for what was said after both the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl by members of the Colts Organization regarding their faith in and praise for God. They gave the glory to Him, the real MVP.

Best.Interview.EVER!

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed all of the 2 weeks leading up to the Super Bowl with the exception of the waiting 2 weeks for the Super Bowl. Media Day last Tuesday was at some points annoying, but the media days after that were spectacular, especially when they bring you something like this:

I was in the floor laughing so hard I was crying when he gave the original interview prior to the play video being released, and still can’t watch the interview or the video without laughing. My favorite part is “the bull.” I love Peyton Manning (yeah I had to tell you that AGAIN), and one of my favorite things about him is his ability to laugh at himself. Just when I thought I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about him. He throws this at me.

It’s A Beautiful Day

I can’t quite put my thoughts in to words just yet about everything, but I promise that once I can, I’ll let you all know them. I can say that it hasn’t fully sunk in, yet and I’m still walking around wondering what just happened. We waited all season long for a 60 minute total team effort, and I, for one, am glad they held out until the end to make that happen. Every one of them played so well and fought their way through (not letting the opening kick off return get to them).

I am incredibly excited for Tony Dungy and the entire Colts organization. I couldn’t be happier for them!! If there was a way to give the MVP to the entire team, that’s who would deserve it. Unfortunately, the MVP is voted for in the first half of the game, and a lot of guys who could have won it didn’t get that opportunity to be considered. However, Peyton did share it with them in his post game speech. We’ve come a long way from throwing his O-line under the bus haven’t we, Terry Bradshaw!

If I could I would have every sports writer who ever said that Tony or Peyton would never make it to the Super Bowl, much less win it (especially in the rain), write “I was wrong” 5,000 times each.

P.S. Two special shout outs:

1. To Malcolm Glazer (the owner of the Buccaneers) for firing Tony Dungy at the end of the 2001 season.

2. To all my friends and family members who have put up with me for the last 13 years listening to me talk about Peyton Manning and the Colts (for 9 years). I know you’ve suffered in more ways than one just having to listen to me, but some of you have even helped me get through some of the lowest lows over the years. And those of you who got to share the victory with me last night, it was much appreciated.

MORE LATER…GO COLTS!!!…And to God be all the Glory!!!

Cooper Manning

This is an article about Cooper Manning. He is the oldest of the three Manning brothers. Not many people even know he exists, but to be honest with you, if you were to ask me which Manning brother is my favorite, it’d be Cooper. For all that Peyton and Eli have accomplished in their football careers, it pales in comparison to what Cooper has been through, overcome, and been successful in life doing. Read on if you’re interested:

Another Line
By ALAN GREENBERG And JOHN ALTAVILLA
Courant Staff Writers

February 2 2007

MIAMI — He’s easily the funniest and most outgoing of Archie and Olivia Manning’s three sons, and once might have been the best athlete. But while younger brothers Peyton and Eli study NFL defenses, Cooper Manning studies oil and natural gas companies for a boutique brokerage.

“I enjoy it, and I’m pretty good at it,” he says in a phone interview from a 35th-floor office with grand views of the Mississippi River and New Orleans. “If I wasn’t pretty good, I’d be looking at doing something else.”

We all have our dreams, and when your dreams are of football glory, and you’re the son of Ole Miss legend and former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, there’s a darn good chance that those dreams will be fulfilled. Sunday at Dolphin Stadium, Colts quarterback Peyton fulfills a dream when he becomes the first Manning to lead his team to the Super Bowl. The family will be there, including Cooper (the “oo” is pronounced as in “book”) and wife Ellen.

“The kids [daughter May, 4, and sons Arch, 21/2, and Heid, 1] aren’t making the cut,” says Cooper, meaning the travel squad. “This is a chance for me to get some sleep.”

For a guy who views the glass as half-empty, it would also be a chance to lose sleep. To think about what might have been. Cooper Manning, an all-state receiver in high school, was forced to quit football as an Ole Miss freshman when doctors belatedly discovered that he had a congenital narrowing of the spinal canal known as spinal stenosis. It meant that Cooper risked being paralyzed the next time he was hit, and had been risking it all along.

Suddenly, there were no more hits, and no more gridiron glory. And instead of following Cooper to Ole Miss, where he knew they would be the greatest passing combination the world had ever seen, just as they were for that one precious year in high school, a despondent Peyton chose to attend Tennessee. Cooper learned to attend to life without football.

But Cooper, 32, is a glass half-full kind of guy. And the tears he shed 13, 14 years ago – when he endured several operations and doctors unpeeled his back like a banana – are gone. He had to learn to walk again after the surgery, and even once he did the occasional numbness in his legs would cause him to fall down as if he were drunk, a conclusion of passersby that he never bothered to correct.

No longer can Cooper throw a football or shoot a jumper with his misshapen right hand, the numbness and weakness in which was the first symptom of the grim diagnosis. No longer can he drive a golf ball with power, or crush you with a warm handshake when he looks you in the eye, as Archie Manning taught his boys to.

“My handshake sucks,” he said.

But never his attitude. Cooper limps, yet carries himself with grace.

“I don’t particularly like to dwell,” he said. “I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. I was 18 or 19 and I’ve moved on. I’ve done a lot of things I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done, made some buddies I wouldn’t have had if I’d still played football. I’d like to think I became a little more well-rounded, a little more worldly, because I didn’t have to get up to lift [weights] at 6 in the morning.”

Archie remembers those years.

“One of the greatest years in my life was 1991, when Cooper was a senior all-state receiver and Peyton was a sophomore quarterback,” Archie said. “It was a fun year for them. It formed an even tighter bond. And then it’s a year later and Cooper’s going to get his chance to play in college, which was his dream. And then the injury prevented all that.

“I believe Cooper handled it much better than Peyton did. Cooper just thought it was how life went; Peyton was angry, he thought it wasn’t fair. They talked it through between them. Their relationship, their love for each other, makes me proud, even very emotional sometimes because the years have a tendency to go by.”

After graduating from Ole Miss, Cooper worked in the oil service business for three years, then briefly considered becoming a sports agent or broadcaster before joining energy investment firm Howard, Weil, Labouisse, Friedrichs eight years ago.

“There was something about me,” Cooper said, “that wanted to go into a total different direction than Peyton.”

As kids, they used to go in the same direction – at each other. Whether it was fighting in the house or mauling each other under the driveway basketball hoop, there was mayhem. And Cooper, two years older, was always the winner. But Cooper also let his brother in on things in the neighborhood.

“They played together in playgrounds and in backyards and as usually was the case it was Cooper’s buddies who were there,” Archie said. “But they always let Peyton in. They abused him, kicked him around a little and probably toughened him up in the process. But all in all they competed against each other like the devil. They were so close.”

Eli, 26, was too young to get involved in that stuff.

Peyton and Cooper got all the benefits of seeing Dad play in the NFL. Eli didn’t.

“We just grew up in a different way,” said Eli, quarterback of the Giants. “When Peyton and Cooper were growing up, my dad was still playing for the Saints and then Minnesota. So they were going in the locker rooms and knew all the players. They were just around football. By the time I came around, my dad was done playing football, so I never got that atmosphere where it was ingrained on me as early as those two guys.”

For many, being the only brother who isn’t a football star in America’s royal football family could be a royal pain, especially when being a football star was all you wanted to be before a medical condition crushed your dream.

“I like to have fun with it rather than be annoyed by it,” says the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Cooper, although honesty keeps him from signing their name when an autograph-seeker confuses him with Peyton or Eli.

Of course, a younger Cooper did get a kick out of a little confusion. When Peyton played at Tennessee, Cooper would come up to Knoxville for the weekend and occasionally sit in a local bar, cigar and drink in hand, on the eve of the game. When a fan, mistaking him for Peyton, would ask why he was out so late, Cooper would say, “Hey, we’re only playing …”

Although Cooper admits he gets tired of being asked, “Tell me some funny stuff about you and your brothers when you were young,” he neither hides nor publicizes who he is. A year or two ago, a business client who had become a friend told him, “You’re a jerk. I can’t believe we’ve been dealing together for four years and you didn’t tell me you were Peyton’s brother.”

What, no trading on the Manning name?

“These clients are far more intelligent than I could ever imagine being,” Cooper said. “That’s neat for about 10 minutes. But if you can’t tell ’em what they want to know or make money for them, you’re on a short leash.”

So is Cooper. He can’t snow or water ski, and an innocent bearhug or slap on the back can briefly leave him numb or in pain.

But that’s just one of the many ways he’s different than his brothers.

“Peyton’s serious, and I’m not,” Cooper said. “I’m very inquisitive, no matter what’s going on. Eli doesn’t really care. He’s not overly interested in where the guy next to him on the flight is from. Eli is particularly comfortable with the awkward silence. I’m not.

“I’m kind of jealous of both those things, being comfortable with the awkward silence, and the ability to be so passionate, like Peyton’s approach. He is not going to do his homework and leave a few answers to do the next morning before class real quick. I gave a little informal speech recently to 15 guys that wanted me to talk to them about the Saints and the Colts. I took a few notes, but sort of just winged it. Peyton would have written it all out and practiced it.”

Cooper doesn’t manage either brother’s money. “I’ll let other people lose it for them,” he says. He does say Eli is more likely to ask.

“I’m more of a big brother to him. I’m more of a peer to Peyton; he doesn’t really ask my advice. Peyton, he’s a tough customer,” Cooper said. “He’d be a hard person; he’d be hard to please. You’re just not going to be showered with compliments. It would be, `That’s good, but …

“Eli would be a delight.”

Peyton will be less than delighted if he loses the Super Bowl. But not for long. His older brother’s dreams, and how abruptly they were destroyed, is Peyton’s reality check. Sometimes it’s hard to be a Manning, but harder to be a man. Cooper reminds everyone how to be both.

My Boys

Allow me to be Verne Lundquist for a moment. If you’ve ever watched a CBS College Football game on Saturday afternoon, you know what I’m talking about. If not, Verne Lundquist is what I call the King of Hard-luck stories. He finds the most disastrous story about one of the players in the game and milks it for all it’s worth for the next three and a half hours. In any case………

These are my boys. I swear I would be the best Team Mom for the Colts. They’d probably all be really fat and unable to play because I’d just keep baking them cookies, cakes, and pies and really fatty southern food, but hey…they’d love me. 🙂 I’ve often wondered if such a position exists and if so, how on earth do I apply for that job. I would love to take care of the rookies and help get them oriented to their new surroundings before they get their welcome to the NFL moment. Of course I’d baby them and they’d never grow up, but who cares…I’d be so good at it. In the course of these gentlemen becoming “my boys,” I’ve learned quite a bit about them. Some of them I know their statistics, some of them I know their background and how they got to the NFL, and some of them I know both of those things about them.

Take, for instance, Gary Brackett: he’s a linebacker from Rutgers, but has the cutest, most pinchable cheeks I’ve ever seen on a grown man. He had 123 total tackles this season, 72 of them were solo. But what you might not know about him is that he lost his father, mother, and brother to three different medical problems all in a 16 month span starting at the end of 2003. He dedicates a lot of his playing to them and just keeps going.

Take, for instance, Dallas Clark: he’s a tight end from Iowa who has one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen. I’ve taken to calling him my baby boy because I just love him. I fell apart when he hit the ground in the Philly game with what they thought was a torn ACL. Turns out it was a partial tear that has healed itself enough for him to be the biggest producers for the Colts in the postseason. He leads the league in receiving yards for the postseason. That has never happened in his career (regular season or otherwise). But his is of a different story. The week of his high school graduation, his mother died of a sudden heart attack. He competed in a district track meet a few days after her death. He played defense in high school, but his college coach moved him to tight end. This was after he walked on to the team and didn’t receive a scholarship until his junior year. Prior to the scholarship he worked his way through college working for the grounds crew of the Iowa Hawkeye’s stadium. And he worked on that grounds crew like his life depended on it being so incredibly proud of the patch of grass near the 20 yard line that he was responsible for. After being granted a scholarship, he started all 13 games as he helped lead Iowa to its first undefeated conference season in 80 years. His biggest game came against Purdue where on his first touchdown he broke a tackle and raced 95 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest pass play in Kinnick Stadium history and the second longest in school history. His second touchdown came with Iowa down 28-24, he caught a seven yard pass on fourth and goal to give Iowa a 31-28 win. He was a consensus first team All-American. He won the John Mackey Award for the country’s best tight end after that season. He left Iowa with 1,281 career receiving yards in just two years at the tight end position. All this from a kid who lost his mom the week before he graduated from high school. His wristbands every Sunday have “MOM” written on them.

Take, for instance, Jeff Saturday: he the Pro Bowl center from North Carolina who wasn’t drafted. He signed as a free agent with Baltimore in 1998 who waived him less than 2 months later. He was prepared at that point to enter the Arena league and play one season as a way to say goodbye to the sport he loved so much. He was preparing to go into the electrical sales business after that. Then the Colts called 7 months after he was waived by Baltimore and asked him to help protect Peyton Manning. This month he not only takes his Offensive Line that leads the league in fewest sacks given up into the Super Bowl, but he and his left tackle buddy Tarik Glenn are going to the Pro-Bowl. This will be Jeff’s second Pro Bowl of his career. Just 9 years ago he thought he was going to be an electrical salesman.

Take, for instance, Bryan Fletcher: he’s a tight end from UCLA who saw a good amount of action while Dallas Clark was out with his knee injury. Bryan’s stat on the roster lists him as having 2 years of NFL experience. What you don’t know is his patient journey before those 2 years. He was a 6th round pick by Chicago in the 2002 draft. He was waived by them 4 months after the draft. He went to the practice squad for Tennessee a week later and was waived by Tennessee a week after that. Three months later, Chicago asked him back for their practice squad and was signed as a free agent with them the next month only to be allocated to NFL Europe. Seven months later, he was waived by Chicago, again. Five months later, the Colts signed him as a free agent and allocated him to NFL Europe, again. Since September of 2004 he has been waived and signed to the practice squad twice only to be finally signed as a free agent by the Colts in January of 2005, which brings us to the present. Peyton loves him as he says Bryan is the kind of guy who just catches Touchdowns. He held on, and worked his behind off to make others realize just what an asset he could be to their team. And the Colts finally noticed. Patience (and a little hard work) is indeed a virtue.

Take, for instance, Anthony “Booger” McFarland: he’s a defensive tackle from LSU who was originally a first round draft pick of Tampa Bay in the 1999 draft. Earlier this season before the trade deadline, Tampa considered him washed up and not performing well enough for their team. He was traded to the Colts in October and has helped keep the defense steady and working hard to produce the way they have in the postseason. I’ve often wondered this season just how bad the run defense would have been if Booger wasn’t there. He found new life for his career on the Colts team and has helped them with his leadership and experience (he already has a Super Bowl ring). Thanks, Tampa for putting him out to pasture.

Take, for instance, Nick Harper: he’s a defensive back from Ft. Valley State who darn near ruined the Steelers’ postseason quest last year. Jerome Bettis fumbled near the goal line and Nick Harper picked the ball up and started running the other way. Ben Roethlisberger made a shoestring tackle to stop him. The ensuing drive led to a missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt, which ended the game and sent the Steelers to the AFC championship and eventually the Super Bowl. The week before that playoff game, Nick Harper had a heated argument with his wife in the kitchen of their home. She pulled a knife on him and stabbed him in the leg. So it’s not a happy story or a situation that I condone in any way, shape, or form, but it happened nonetheless. I’ve often wondered what might have happened during his run back of the fumble had his knee not been sliced open by his wife. By the way, they’re still married.

Take, for instance, Terrence Wilkins: he’s listed as a wide receiver from Virginia, but he’s our return specialist on special teams. At the game I attended in September, he returned a punt for a touchdown. His career is similar to that of Bryan Fletcher. He started with the Colts as a free agent in April 1999. He played 3 seasons with us before being traded to St. Louis. He played one season with St. Louis, then signed with Carolina where he was placed on injured reserve almost immediately. He re-signed as a free agent with the Colts a few months later and a few months after that signed as an unrestricted free agent with Miami. He was waived by Miami in August 2004. A year later he signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and less than a year after that, he signed as a free agent with the Colts. He has had a stellar season on special teams (despite a couple of fumbles), but he has an uncanny ability to put us in fantastic field position.

Take, for instance, Reggie Wayne: he’s a wide receiver from Miami. His brother died in a car accident in September and I still get this little pang every time I think about it. He never missed a game even with funeral arrangements and the actual funeral. He dedicated his season to Rashad and this year after 6 years in the league behind, arguably, the best receiver in the league (possibly ever) he is going to the Pro Bowl. On any other team, Reggie is the #1 receiver. On the Colts he plays the left side of the formation while Marvin Harrison plays the right side, but Peyton uses him as if he’s his #1 option. Of course Peyton uses all his wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs as his #1 option at some point in the game. In the AFC Championship game, Reggie nearly lost the ball on the game winning drive. It squirted up into the air, and came back down in his hands. I could only imagine that Rashad was right there next to him in spirit forcing that ball back into Reggie’s hands.

Take, for instance, Joseph Addai: he’s a running back from LSU. He’s played nearly every producing position on offense at some point in his football career, but at LSU he never saw a season over 1,000 yards. He was our first round draft pick in the 2006 draft and he has split time on the field with Dominic Rhodes for every game of the season. There was a large running back class from the 2006 draft that started immediately on their respective teams. Joseph is the only rookie drafted running back playing in the Super Bowl and the only one with over a 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season that didn’t start any of the 16 regular season games.

Take, for instance, Montae Reagor, Mike Doss, Brandon Stokley, Corey Simon, and James Mungro: these are our starters on injured reserve. Montae Reagor was injured in a car accident before the Redskins game. Mike Doss tore his ACL in the Redskins game. Corey Simon hasn’t played a game all season due to a non-football related injury (rumor has it it is some kind of arthritis that affects multiple joints). James Mungro tore his ACL before the season started leaving the offense with no option at fullback. Brandon Stokley (who is much smaller in person than I expected) ruptured his Achilles during the second Jacksonville game of the season without anyone touching him. This was after his season had already been bombarded with knee injuries that kept him out of all but three games before that game. These are the guys who are in Miami wearing their jerseys but not getting to play with their team. These are the sideline cheerleaders helping in whatever way they can. These are the guys who feel more than the pain of their injuries. They’re feeling the pain of not getting to help their team on the field.

These are my boys. Every last one of them has a story, but these are just a few of the more detailed ones. Every last one of them works hard to help the Colts win games. Every last one of them is going to play their heart out on Sunday night to help bring a Super Bowl to Indianapolis for the first time ever and I’m going to be proud of all of them. And, yes, every last one of them has flaws because no one is perfect, but for the men that they are and are not…that’s what makes them my boys.