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Peyton's day

Manning's meticulous preparation keys Colts' victory

Posted: Monday February 5, 2007 4:40AM; Updated: Monday February 5, 2007 12:22PM
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After throwing for 247 yards and a touchdown, the Colts' Peyton Manning was named MVP of Super Bowl XLI.
After throwing for 247 yards and a touchdown, the Colts' Peyton Manning was named MVP of Super Bowl XLI.
John Biever/SI
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MIAMI -- "So,'' I said to Peyton Manning as he walked out of Dolphin Stadium a few minutes after midnight this morning, "they can't say you can't do it anymore, can they?''

"I guess not,'' the Super Bowl XLI MVP said, a bit ruefully and dismissively. "I hope not.''

It is now official. Manning has won the big one. In fact, he's won three big ones since Jan. 13 -- the Armageddon revenge playoff game (for the Ravens) at Baltimore, the get-the-Patriots-playoff-monkey-off-his-back AFC title game over New England, and the decisive but odd Super Bowl triumph over the Bears on Sunday night in the first Super Bowl ever played in the rain.

I want to give you a couple of examples of what makes Manning tick, and what drives him to be so good, from what happened in the Colts' Super Bowl practices.

There are two things I saw last week that I'll never forget.

I had the good fortune of seeing the Colts prepare for the Super Bowl last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Miami Dolphins' training facility. Each Super Bowl week, the Pro Football Writers of America assigns one of its members to cover each team's practices, to report for all the press the basics and some color of the workouts. After each practice, I wrote about a 600-word dispatch, which was distributed in the press center.

Last Thursday, the CBS pre- and in-game crew, including Dan Marino, watched most of practice, and I led my report with one of the guys Manning admires, Marino, watching him work at his old practice fields. The last thing the Colts do every Thursday is the two-minute drill, first offense versus first defense, and here's what I wrote in the PFWA pool report:

Manning had a little of the clutch Marino left in him at the end of the two-hour, nine-minute practice, conducted with crowd noise piped in from speakers on the sidelines. On fourth-and-10 with nine seconds left in the two-minute drill that closes every Thursday practice for the Colts, Manning, working with the first-team offense, drilled a perfect 23-yard touchdown strike to backup wideout Aaron Moorehead in the back of the end zone.

"Peyton practices like that every week ... like it's the Super Bowl,'' said coach Tony Dungy at the end of practice. "It rubs off on the entire offense. This is about our 20th week of practice, and I think the defense stopped the offense once or twice all year. When they stop them, we give out game balls.''

A Colts safety, and I don't recall whom, took his helmet off and slammed it to the ground. This was big stuff, really big to the Colts, on both sides of the ball. As Manning walked off the field after the practice Thursday, I intercepted him and said: "What a great drive to watch. Pretty intense," I said.

"Yeah," Manning said. "I wanted it. Wanted it bad."

On Friday, there was something more revealing about Manning, I thought. And it was one of the strangest things I'd ever seen at a football practice.

Manning was one of the last players on the field for the 1 p.m. practice. Instead, he stayed under an awning behind the facility, with two huge bags of footballs. In the regular season, each team controls the balls it uses on offense during games. They condition 12 balls each week, and Manning has his equipment staff and ballboys break in the balls. But at the Super Bowl, because the league wants so many more balls ready so the balls can be fresh all game long, the NFL mandates that 54 balls be prepared. Fifty-four!

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