With Manning, NFL on ride of a lifetime

2007-02-06T00:00:00Z With Manning, NFL on ride of a lifetime nwitimes.com
February 06, 2007 12:00 am

Al Hamnik

Times Columnist

MIAMI | The rich get richer and that just steams your vegetables, doesn't it?

But allow me to add a footnote: NFL poster boy Peyton Manning deserves whatever he gets. He's bright, articulate, funny, incredibly humble and a consummate team guy.

The star of Super Bowl XLI was honored Monday morning with the Pete Rozelle MVP trophy and a 2007 Cadillac of his choice: Escalade, STS, CTS or XLR.

Manning eyed the fire-engine red XLR convertible parked near the podium the way a college kid ogles the beach at Spring Break.

On a huge order blank near his microphone, the franchise quarterback checked Escalade, scribbling the word "loaded" above it with a Sharpie as the room erupted in laughter and then saying it was for wife Ashley.

With Manning, new NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sees $$$$ the way David Stern did with Michael Jordan.

Manning is the new face of the NFL.

With 35 players arrested throughout the league this season, Manning's as safe a bet as the Pope returning your lost wallet.

Minutes after Sunday's 29-17 win over the Bears and amid all the celebrating, Peyton was talking on the phone to a friend when coach Tony Dungy placed an arm on his shoulder and handed him a cell phone.

"Coach said: 'You need to take this call.' I told him 'I'm on the phone.' He's like: 'No, you need to take THIS call.' I hang up and it's the President," Manning said. "He talked about what a great win it was and playing in those tough (rainy) conditions. He watched the entire game, said he was pulling for us, and looked forward to welcoming us to the White House."

The ninth-year pro spent his 30 minutes on stage Monday applauding the efforts of teammates and the "calming presence" of Dungy for the final outcome and securing the Colts' place in NFL history. If you know this kid, you know that what he says comes from the heart.

"The ultimate goal of any head coach is to get his players to believe in his ways and our team has," Manning said. "That's a huge reason why we won that Super Bowl last night. Truly, as a team, we got hot in the playoffs.

"In order to win this thing, we had to do it as a team. Everybody had to do their part. The defense really stepped up in the playoffs and created turnovers, the offense started running the ball and feeding off one another, and (Adam) Vinatieri was making everything exciting."

Manning didn't plop into bed until about 4 a.m. Monday and claimed he was operating "on zero sleep" but loving every minute of it. He could just stand there for hours, not say a word, and still come across as a fearless leader you'd trust with your life.

The Colts have found their M.J., minus the worldly lifestyle and narcissistic nature, and the league has its marketing genie.

Manning leaves today for the Pro Bowl in Hawaii with teammates Marvin Harrison, Tarik Glenn, Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne. They can't wait to show off their jerseys and championship caps.

"I've been out there the past few years and always real envious of seeing the Patriot guys and the Steeler guys come out a couple days late," Manning said. "I've always wanted to do that and now we will -- as Super Bowl winners."

You'd think the Louisiana native would want to put as much distance between himself and the game once he returns from the islands. Wrong. He already is looking forward to hitting the weight room in March.

"I've seen some past quarterbacks who've won the Super Bowl kinda 'get the pass' as I call it," Manning said. "If they have a bad year, people go: 'Aw, he won a Super Bowl. Give him a pass.' But I don't want a pass. I want to be held accountable each and every year.

"Next year, my goal is to be a better quarterback and I feel I should be because of the experience I gained this year."

This coming from a guy who threw 49 touchdown passes in a single season and never fewer than 26.

How refreshing is that?

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at ahamnik@nwitimes.com.

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