All of us in south Louisiana are a little down in the dumps due to the fact that our New Orleans Saints are not playing in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday in Miami.
But if the hometown boys are not playing in the big show.. we all must feel good that the most recognizable football player from the state of Louisiana, Peyton Manning, will get his chance to finally exorcise the demons of “Big Game” memories past, if the Indianapolis Colts can defeat the Chicago Bears.
Not being able to win the “Big One” has haunted Manning since his college days at the University of Tennessee. In Manning’s final three years at Tennessee the strong-armed passer led the Volunteers to 33 victories, but when he went up against the Steve Spurrier-led Florida Gators, Manning and company came up short three straight times.
Of the five losses Manning encountered in college, three were to the University of Florida.
Manning didn’t have his best efforts against Florida, but his teammates also fell short and to be honest, the Volunteers lost those three times to a better overall team.
When Manning was drafted 1st overall in the 1998 draft he could never have dreamt that the haunted “Big Game” would follow him and this time the barbarian at the gate was the New England Patriots.
In 2003 the Colts made it to the AFC Championship game, but they were turned away from a Super Bowl trip when the Tom Brady-led Patriots beat Indianapolis 24-13.
In 2004 Manning had one of the greatest seasons in the history of pro football, but when the Colts faced off against the Patriots in the playoffs, Brady again got the best of him and New England defeated the Colts 20-3.
2005 was no better. There was no New England Patriot club that stood in front of them this time, but instead it was the Pittsburgh Steelers. The vaunted Steeler defense did a great job controlling Manning most of the game, but in the deepest cut of them all Manning had to endure watching then-Colts kicker Mike Vanderjadt miss a 41-yard field goal in the closing seconds and the Steelers advanced into the AFC championship game.
This season would have a better ending as the Colts dug deep to post one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history to defeat New England 38-34 in the AFC championship game, but there is one more big game Manning has to win to finally clear those bad memories.
My old friend Hank Stram, who coached the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl IV, and later coached the New Orleans Saints, used to always say, “You can’t win it all, if you don’t have it all. One great player will not win you a championship. Great teams win, not necessarily one great player. As great as Dan Marino was quarterbacking the Miami Dolphins, he didn’t play on great teams. John Elway won it all in Denver, but only when they complimented him with a strong running game and pretty good defense.”
That is why I am picking the Colts to win Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts have shown over the past month that even when Peyton Manning was not playing his very best, they could still win games with their defense and a strong running attack.
Over the past three weeks the Colts defense has given up 48 points, and 34 of them were to the New England Patriots.
With the healthy return of former All-Pro safety Bob Sanders and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and LSU standout defensive tackle “Booger” McFarland playing big art crucial segments, the Colts defense has come to life.
We have also seen the Colts running game really set the stage for Manning and his great array of receivers. Former LSU standout and 2006 1st round pick Joseph Addai has been a big part of the Colts success along with steady back-up halfback Dominic Rhodes.
This is taking nothing away from the Chicago Bears. They are very much a stamped football team. You know what you are getting when you play the Bears.
Like watching James Brown dance his signature move across the stage, or watching Michael Jackson moonwalk or hearing the raspy voice of Bruce Springsteen, the Bears are a team that you are well aware of their signature wins.
The Bears love to pound the football with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, they place aggressive defensively and put a high priority on stripping away the football and they have an outstanding special teams unit.
But when I think about Super Bowl champions I think about Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Tom Brady, Troy Aikman, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Steve Young, playing their very best when all of Football America is watching.
It’s Manning’s time to get the heavy load off his back and finally win the big game He is finally on a team that has players that can compliment his own great talents.