Let the hype begin as Patriots, Giants prepare for Rematch Bowl
Super Bowl rematch could be a lot like previous Giants-Patriots matchup
My gut feeling is Peyton is done in Indy; time will tell if he plays elsewhere
Who'll draft 28-year-old Brandon Weeden; Remembering Greg Cook; more
INDIANAPOLIS -- Lots going on as we draw nearer to The Rematch Bowl of Super Bowl 46. (That's right, I'm not a big Roman numeral guy.)
We need to get one thing straight about Peyton Manning.
The most compelling player in the 2012 draft hits our consciousness.
The greatest player we never got to see develop is dead.
Greg Schiano. Greg Schiano? And he may have a very familiar assistant coach in Tampa.
I explore the life of Saints hero and ALS patient Steve Gleason.
But we should start with hype week, since that's why I have been dispatched to central Indiana. But I'll be brief since we'll have plenty of other opportunities throughout the week to dissect the game, including my late week prediction.
First, a word about how both teams are going to spin this as a totally different game than the one four years ago, with each team having so many new players and each team in a totally different place. Yes, one word: bunk.
Players on the two teams back for The Rematch Bowl: 23.
Owners back for the The Rematch Bowl: All (Kraft, Mara/Tisch).
Head coaches back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Belichick, Coughlin).
Starting quarterbacks back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Brady, Manning).
Left tackles back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Light, Diehl).
Key defensive linemen back for The Rematch Bowl: All (Wilfork, Tuck, Umenyiora).
Draft final-say men back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Belichick, Reese).
Ventrone brothers on the New England roster for the first game and the sequel: Two (Ray for the first, Ross for this one).
Ventrone Note of the Week: In 2005, the Patriots signed safety Ray from Villanova as an undrafted free agent. He was released at the end of training camp, signed to the practice squad, got hurt in the now defunct NFL Europa, was subsequently released in February 2007, re-signed to the practice squad that September, released later in the season, signed to the active roster in December, played in Super Bowl XLII, played 15 games for New England in 2008, and was released on the final cut of 2009. (He now plays for Cleveland.)
The following year, the Patriots signed safety Ross, Ray's brother, from Villanova, as an undrafted free agent. He was released at the end of training camp, signed to the practice squad, then signed for the 2011 season, and, in between playing eight games, has been signed to the practice squad or active roster or released 21 times in the last six months. He's on the practice squad now. Who knows whether he'll be brought up to wreak havoc on special teams in the Super Bowl.
Ray Ventrone actually had a valuable cameo role in the Super Bowl game against the Giants. After the Patriots went up 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter, he destroyed New York return man Dominik Hixon at the Giants' 17 on the ensuing kickoff. It was Ventrone's first career tackle in the NFL, and it left Eli Manning 83 yards away from a touchdown the Giants had to have. And you know the rest, Tyree Velcro catch and all.
Anyway, the Ventrone thing just caps it off. This is the same game!
"Do you realize how weird this is?'' defensive end Osi Umenyiora said to Tom Coughlin in the mayhem of the Giants' locker room in San Francisco, after the Giants beat the Niners to get to this game. "Have you stopped to think about it? We win the NFC Championship in overtime with a field goal on the road four years ago and go on to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots. We win the NFC Championship in overtime tonight with a field goal on the road and go on to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots!''
It's going to be a fun week, particularly in eight states in the upper right-hand corner of your United States map.
Now, since we'll get hyped to death all week with the Super Bowl, let's cover other stuff ... like the other story we'll get clubbed over the head with this week.
What this column won't be about: where Peyton Manning will play in 2012. There's a simple reason. No one knows yet if he'll play at all. In the last few days, as I said on NBC last night, I've heard mixed reports about his physical condition. There is no guarantee he'll be healthy enough for any team to build its offense around.
Manning turns 36 in two months. He's had three neck surgeries in the past two years. People in Miami, Washington, Arizona and New York dreaming of Manning playing for their team and leading them to the promised land have to get their heads around the reality of this situation. Manning might be fine and ready to play football in 2012, and maybe even a year or two beyond that. Or he might wake up on March 1 and not feel fit enough, and get his release from the Colts, and then spend more time rehabbing, trying to get fit enough and strong enough in the neck and arm to play this year. Or he might say, with new twins in the house, it's all not worth the risk.
Or Manning might waffle, which would be the greatest thing ever to happen to Brett Favre. Instead of Mike Florio speculating monthly if some team might take leave of its senses and try to lure Favre out of retirement, ProFootballTalk.com could make a cottage industry of The Race for Manning. Jets? Dolphins? Cards? 'Skins? The golf course in Chattanooga? Who knows? And if you thought ESPN and NFL Network over-covered Tim Tebow, wait 'til you see this. I can just see Scott Hanson and Ed Werder (or Chris Mortensen, who is tight with Manning) out in lawn chairs, camped out for the white smoke signals from the Manning chimney.
I know it's too much to ask, waiting for the story to actually develop. But near the end of the football season, Manning made a plea to let the process play out. Let the neck heal. Let the arm strength come back, if it will. Give it time. I don't think we can know anything definitive until Manning gives the process that time, and he sits down with owner Jim Irsay in late February or early March and tells him exactly where he is physically.
What'll happen then? I don't know. The other day, Manning family friend Gil Brandt, the longtime NFL personnel guru, was dubious about Manning's future when he appeared on my podcast. "My gut feeling,'' said Brandt, "is that we've probably seen the last of Peyton.''
Strong statement, and he wouldn't have said it unless he felt pretty good about it. Now, he did follow that by saying he doesn't think anyone knows the answer to the question for sure ... yet. We've all got to wait.
One more point: I talked to Colts owner Irsay over the weekend, and he insisted, contrary to an NFL.com report that he decided "weeks ago'' to part ways with Manning, that he hasn't done any such thing. "There has been no decision,'' Irsay told me. "This thing is still up in the air. I guarantee you I have not made the decision."
My gut is Manning's probably done here. And only time will tell if he'll play anywhere. It's just not anything we can know now.