endlessly in the Manning household, mostly from the second of Archie and
Olivia's three sons, and mostly about football. It was Peyton who invariably
asked his father about his career at Ole Miss from 1968 to '70 and who was so
taken with his dad's stories that he committed pregame radio broadcasts of the
Rebels' starting lineups to memory. It was Peyton who first became a
quarterback and queried Archie about the succession of fierce middle
linebackers whom he had played against: Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, Tommy Nobis,
The kid learned football, but he also learned football's heritage. "Peyton
was always a history guy," says Archie. "He knows which guys in my era
were really great. He knows about the great players in his own era
One of those current greats first crossed paths with Manning during a game at
Chicago's Soldier Field in November 2000. Manning was in his third season, en
route to his second Pro Bowl and the Indianapolis Colts' second consecutive
playoff appearance. He passed for 302 yards and a touchdown that afternoon and
brought his team back from a 27-point deficit before losing 27--24. On the
other side of the ball, Bears rookie linebacker Brian Urlacher, a 6'4",
258-pound former college safety, racked up 14 tackles and seemed to be
everywhere at once. "Fun game, man," recalls Urlacher. "I had a
pretty good game ... for a rookie."
Manning talked to
his father soon afterward. "Urlacher is really good," Peyton told
Archie. "He's big, he really runs well, he's smart." On that day
Urlacher was added to Manning's list of great middle linebackers.
They have not faced
each other since. In 2004 the Colts beat the Bears 41--10, again at Soldier
Field. Manning passed for four touchdowns, and Edgerrin James rushed for 204
yards. Urlacher watched from a chair in his basement, six days after emergency
surgery to relieve swelling in his left calf. "Believe me," says the
30-year-old Manning. "I wasn't disappointed about that."
"I was mad as
hell," the 28-year-old Urlacher says. "I wanted to be out there playing
He will get that
chance on Sunday in Miami. Manning versus Urlacher is the most significant
individual battle of Super Bowl XLI, a rare title-game matchup of the game's
best quarterback and its best middle linebacker, future Hall of Famers with a
combined 13 Pro Bowls selections. It will often commence with their face masks
nearly touching, Manning shouting and gesticulating as he changes plays (or
pretends to), Urlacher barking out signals as he calls for countermoves (or
pretends to), all just prelude to the snap of the ball.
"It's going to
be a classic battle," says Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck,
who lost to Chicago 27--24 in overtime in the divisional playoffs.
"It should be a
hell of a chess match," says Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator of the
Baltimore Ravens, 15--6 losers to the Colts in the divisional round, but the
only team to hold Indianapolis's offense without a touchdown in its last 34
They are iconic
players--the cerebral quarterback and the punishing middle linebacker--but this
is hardly a showdown of brain against brawn. Manning's greatness is built on
more than gray matter; he has a quick release, an accurate arm, terrific
vision, a strong pocket presence and fortitude to spare, having started 156
consecutive games. "He's a tough guy," says Urlacher. "A lot
tougher than people seem to think he is."
Urlacher's assets don't stop at the neckline. "I guarantee you he's
watching every bit as much film as Peyton is," says Detroit Lions
quarterback Jon Kitna. "He's special because he's got size and speed
[Urlacher runs a 4.59 40] but also because of his football IQ, which is
something that a lot of people are missing when they talk about Brian."
The Super Bowl will
be their defining moment. For the winner it becomes the most significant line
on his r�sum� ( John Elway); for the loser it represents his biggest void (Dan
Marino). "The most important thing is to win the game," says Urlacher.
"But I'm not going to lie; I'd like to make some plays on this guy. Not a
lot of defenses do that against Peyton Manning."