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Pulling for Peyton

Hard not to root for one of the NFL's hardest workers

Posted: Monday January 22, 2007 8:51AM; Updated: Monday January 22, 2007 8:35PM
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After eight seasons of frustration, Peyton Manning has finally led the Colts to the Super Bowl.
After eight seasons of frustration, Peyton Manning has finally led the Colts to the Super Bowl.
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
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CHICAGO -- I covered The Other Game. You know, the game that wasn't the game of the year.

And so as I walked out of the press box at Soldier Field to finish reporting the story about the tough-as-nails Bears that I wrote for this week's issue of the magazine, a buddy nudged me and pointed to the muted TV above our row. Late second quarter, AFC Championship Game. Asante Samuel was dancing into the end zone on a replay, and the TV came back to show the Patriots kicking the extra point.

New England 21, Peyton Manning 3.

Poor guy, one writer said.

"I actually feel sorry for Manning,'' said another.

"Can someone just put Peyton out of his misery?'' another said. "I can't watch this.''

Interesting. So many writers and media people criticize Manning because he's never won The Big One, dating back to all his big losses at Tennessee, and then to his Curse of Belichick defeats at the hands of the Patriots. The words cut and sting, and I'm sure one of the reasons Manning has cut out almost all of his one-on-one TV interviews this season is because during almost every one of them in the last couple of years, if the TV person is doing his/her job, the question about not winning a National Championship or Super Bowl is asked. And so why should Manning subject himself to weekly reminders of the pain? I totally understand his refusal to deal with the the amiable but persistent grilling.

But even though the questions come, I don't know many of my peers who don't like Manning. Personally, I was thrilled to see him make the comeback of the year and put up 32 points on the league's No. 2 scoring defense on Sunday. I bet there's been 10 times since he's been in the league when I've had a conversation with him that was supposed to last 10 or 15 minutes, and it lasts 45 or 60; and he doesn't want to end it but has to or we'd be there all day. This summer, at training camp, I got him alone after practice and we sat on his golf cart for what was supposed to be 10 or 15 minutes. He just about cleared his throat and we were 10 minutes into it. But he stayed -- I think through lunch -- and we just talked about so many things other than my topic du jour. League gossip. What I'd seen at other camps. Riffing on his new practice technique -- a team cameraman videotaping his eyes from the position of a cornerback out on the practice field.

Of the guys I've covered regularly in recent years, what's remarkable is the three players who stick out for their interest in constantly getting better and doing only what's best for the team. All three played this weekend. Manning. Tom Brady. Brian Urlacher. They love the game, respect the game, work at the game and treat other players with respect. It's what we all should be teaching our children, not that Reggie Bush crap we saw Sunday ... the pointing and taunting.

I'm a 49-year-old softie. I wanted to see Manning get to the Super Bowl for a very simple reason. It's absurd that he's been labeled as a choker. Patently absurd. He played a couple of poor games in the muck and mire of Foxboro against one of the best teams of all time. Big deal. Everybody else has lost to the Patriots over the last six years too. On Sunday, he led six second-half drives, five of which went for scores. The drives: 76 yards, 76, 67, 59, and 80. Against the mighty Patriots. And now he's got a three-game winning streak over them in the last 15 months. Good for him.

Belittle Manning if you want because he's a cash machine, the highest-paid player in football history who has never met a commercial he didn't like. Hey, it's the American way. But understand how much he wants to win, how hard he works at it, how much he loves the game you love to make the centerpiece of your Sundays for five months every year. And then you'll feel like I feel right now. Like justice has been served.


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