Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning donned a red windbreaker, folded his arms against his chest and mingled coolly among players he’s gotten to know over the years.
He couldn’t have seemed more relaxed.
Come next Sunday, he’ll likely have a different look.
Manning, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and the rest of the Colts and Saints picked for the Pro Bowl enjoyed a night off Sunday, reduced to being mere spectators watching the warmup act to the NFL’s season finale — the Super Bowl, back in the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium next Sunday night.
“It’s fun to be here,” Manning said during ESPN’s telecast of the Pro Bowl. “It’s always fun to play in the game. Obviously I’m excited tonight, knowing I have a real game next week.”
Manning was excused from playing. So the MVP worked on the plane instead.
“On our way down,” Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said, “he was watching film.”
Pro Bowl selections from both Super Bowl teams arrived in South Florida on Sunday, while their formal team arrivals were set for Monday afternoon, when the buzz will begin intensifying in short order. For Manning and the Colts, this is old hat — they were in the Super Bowl in the same stadium north of downtown Miami three years ago, beating Chicago for the crown.
For the Saints, this is all new, and they’re still basking in the joy of winning the NFC title.
“It’s just been euphoria,” Brees said. “So obviously we’re excited to be here, but we definitely have a job to finish.”
Both of the Super Bowl clubs had seven players tabbed for the Pro Bowl. From New Orleans, Brees was joined by Jon Vilma, Darren Sharper, Jahri Evans, Jonathan Goodwin, Roman Harper, and Jonathan Stinchcomb. Besides Manning, the Colts picked for the game were Antoine Bethea, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday and Wayne.
They were introduced shortly before kickoff with the rest of the Pro Bowlers, and unlike players from some teams, particularly those who are Dolphins rivals in the AFC East, weren’t booed.
“Absolutely, this is a great environment for everyone,” Clark said.
Fans, not so much. It rained lightly before the game — the same sort of weather that greeted the Colts for their Super Bowl win over the Bears in 2007.
“I could be accustomed to come to Miami and feeling rain,” Saturday said.
Colts owner Bill Polian decided it would be too challenging to bring Indianapolis’ Pro Bowlers back home, just to have them return Monday to South Florida. Saturday said one of the best parts of the Super experience was the team flight, coming down those stairs from the jet and onto the tarmac as a team, just about everyone with a video camera in hand.
He’ll have his camera again Monday, just with a different view.
“We’ll be the welcoming committee,” Saturday said.
The most intriguing Super Bowl story line might be the most obvious one as well, with two of the game’s elite quarterbacks — Manning and Brees, who combined for 8,888 yards passing and 67 touchdowns, each posting basically identical numbers to one another — matching wits to decide a title.
It’s not a 1-on-1 game, of course, but Manning and Brees will hear enough questions this week to make it seem that way.
“Well, they’re probably not giving enough credit to the other side of the ball as well,” Brees said. “I know that our defense has played exceptional as has the Colts’ defense. So it’s going to be one of those games that’s, you know, back and forth, down to the wire I’m sure.”
If the Colts have one advantage, it might be this: They’ve been here before, and Manning knows the importance of getting the game plan in before arriving in the Super city.
“Because of the schedule down here in Miami, once you get down here, it’s important to get your core preparation done during that first week, which we have done,” Manning said. “This is a tough team to get to know. You really can’t study them enough. They give you so many different looks and so it’s important to use the entire time.”
About 90 minutes later, during halftime of the Pro Bowl, Manning and Brees shook hands and nodded at each other.
The “real game” awaits.
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