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Manning the biggest star by far on Media Day

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Peyton Manning worked the room masterfully. He took questions from all directions, throwing in plenty of eye contact. He spoke glowingly when necessary, took a few stabs at humor and steered away from anything that might come across as controversial.

Yes, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback handled Super Bowl media day with the same aplomb he shows at the line of scrimmage.

Manning, a four-time MVP and clearly the biggest star in South Florida, spoke on a wide range of subjects Tuesday without revealing a whole lot we didn’t already know. He certainly didn’t provide any bulletin-board fodder to Sunday’s opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

Heck, that’s his hometown, the city where his father Archie played and still lives. If the Colts weren’t trying to win a title of their own, Manning would’ve been the Saints’ biggest fan. He was certainly happy when they beat Minnesota in an overtime thriller to earn their first trip to the Super Bowl, a game that Manning won three years ago.

“The Saint were my team growing up,” he said. “I was really excited for New Orleans, watching them win that game against the Vikings. It was exciting to see the French Quarter empty in the third quarter and then be packed after the game. I had a lot of friends down there tell me what it was like.”

Manning said he also appreciates the history of the Colts, dating back to their days in Baltimore. In fact, one of his father’s favorite players was Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas (the other: Mickey Mantle).

“I understand the significance of Unitas,” Manning said. “I still feel that connection to Colts history.”

Not long after being drafted by Indianapolis, Manning met Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was then playing at right-down-the-road Purdue.

“He came to see a Colts game,” said Manning, who then quickly pointed out that Brees “paid for his ticket. Everything was on the up-and-up,” apparently in case the NCAA was listening.

Manning didn’t get any offbeat questions, but that didn’t stop him from trying to add a little levity to the proceedings.

“No, I’m not superstitious,” he said. “I’m just a little ‘stitious. OK, that’s a bad joke. Eli gave me that one. I take it back.”

Later, when another reporter broached the same subject, Manning was more revealing. He doesn’t carry around a rabbit’s foot, but he does have a routine he goes through before every game. When he first gets to the stadium, he reads the game program from front to back. Then, exactly two hours before kickoff, he goes out to the field to throw a few balls with receiver Reggie Wayne.

Manning shied away from any questions that might have turned controversial.

For instance, when asked about Lane Kiffin bolting from Manning’s alma mater, Tennessee, to take the coaching job at USC, the quarterback replied, “I’m looking forward when it comes to the situation in Knoxville. I just want to wish the best to coach Dooley,” referring to Kiffin’s successor Derek Dooley.

On other subjects, Manning said:

_ He misses former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, who was slain last summer by his mistress in what was ruled a murder-suicide. “There was no tougher player in the NFL than Steve McNair. I’m really proud to have shared the MVP award with him in 2003.”

_ The Colts will try to establish their ground game Sunday, even though they ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards during the regular season. “I don’t think you can just drop back and pass on every single play.”

_ He believes the league is sincere in its efforts to deal with concussions. “I appreciate what the NFL is trying to do. The game is about being tough, but it’s about being smart as well.”

_ The Florida quarterback who’s getting mixed reviews from NFL scouts will do better in the pros than many are expecting. “Any NFL team would be lucky to have Tim Tebow. I think about all the problems we’ve had on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. He was probably 100 percent in his college career at converting those.”

_ It’s too early for him to assess the impact of his career, even though he’s been in the league for a dozen seasons and is one win away from joining the elite group of quarterbacks who led teams to more than one Super Bowl title. “When my career is over, I’ll look back and reflect. But it’s so year-to-year right now.”

During his hour-long session, Manning took just under 80 questions and was often surrounded by up to 100 reporters, photographers and cameramen — all crammed into an area not much bigger than the hotel rooms most fans are staying in this week.

Not surprisingly, putting that many people into such a confined space can cause tensions to rise. Police had to be called to settle a dispute between two media members who jostled for prime real estate even before Manning arrived. But everyone came to an uneasy truce.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) walks away after media day for NFL football Super Bowl XLIV Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, in Miami. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during media day for NFL football Super Bowl XLIV, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, in Miami. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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