MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Peyton Manning didn't want to slight the Pro Bowl, but the Indianapolis quarterback stated the obvious Sunday night during the game, which the AFC won 41-34.
"Obviously, I'm excited to have a real game next week," Manning said.
Now that the Pro Bowl is done, the week-long hype for Super Bowl XLIV can officially begin. And just like the difference between the world's largest annual sporting event and a glorified exhibition game, there will be "real" and "fake" Super Bowl angles touted by the media.
Here's a look at some of the legitimately interesting Indianapolis vs. New Orleans storylines and those where you shouldn't believe the hype.
• The aborted perfect season: Should the Colts win, coach Jim Caldwell will face another round of second-guessing for pulling his starters in a Week 16 loss to the New York Jets. But even if Indianapolis squandered a chance at finishing 19-0, history already has shown that Caldwell made the right move for his team.
The Colts entered the postseason well rested and didn't lose a key player to injury like New England did with wide receiver Wes Welker in Week 17. Indianapolis also didn't show any rust in its first playoff win against Baltimore. Credit that to the Colts' preparation under Caldwell. He elicited inspired practices by matching starters against each other during the bye week rather than try to game plan for three different potential opponents like predecessor Tony Dungy did in the past.
"I haven't looked back," Manning said when asked about the topic during the Pro Bowl telecast. "We're glad to be in [the Super Bowl]. That's what it's all about."
• Gregg Williams' attempt at psychological warfare: After posting 30 points in the AFC Championship game against Rex Ryan's Jets, Indianapolis will try to silence another loud-mouthed defensive guru. During a radio interview last week, Williams stressed that his unit wants to register some "remember me" shots against Manning. The Saints coordinator also didn't seem concerned if his players drew fines for borderline blows.
"For us, it's really about getting after (Manning) and trying to get a little pressure," Saints middle linebacker Jon Vilma said Sunday. "If we don't hit him, at least get in his way. Get in his face, get a hand on him, just let him know that we're there."
Trust me: The Colts aren't losing sleep worrying about New Orleans giving Manning the Favre treatment. Manning is almost always savvy enough to avoid big hits. Manning's elusiveness was evident once again this season by the fact he was sacked only 14 times in 654 passing attempts (including the playoffs). Colts linemen are also unflustered. Informed of Williams' comments by the Indianapolis Star, left tackle Charlie Johnson shrugged and said, "What else is new?"
Nothing -- unless the Saints can actually back Williams' words.
• Archie Manning: Ken Trahan, who does a radio show with Manning, said his co-host hasn't enjoyed this past week because of all the media attention he has received. Hopefully, the 162 outlets who have submitted interview requests have something more interesting to ask Archie than which team he is cheering for in Super Bowl XLIV. The thought that Manning -- a Saints legend -- would have split loyalties is absurd. Archie obviously loves his former team but he's not going to cheer against his son.
• Sean Payton's media image: The coach's contentious relationship with some Saints reporters has become public knowledge. As former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, I wince when hearing about the credentialing issues and browbeating that some of my peers have received. But I also know this: Saints don't care how Payton handles reporters as long as he keeps winning.
• Dwight Freeney's health: This is the biggest injury news entering Super Bowl week. Freeney's availability is in question after he hurt his ankle last week against the Jets.
The fact Freeney didn't attend the Pro Bowl to stand on the Sun Life Stadium sidelines with Colts and Saints players seemingly speaks volumes about his health. The Colts have no replacement for a pass-rusher as skilled as Freeney, who had 13.5 sacks in 2009 despite starting only nine games because of injury. Freeney's absence also would have a trickle-down effect on fellow end Robert Mathis, who would receive more blocking attention if he can't be handled one-on-one by Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb.
"You have to know where (Freeney) is at all times," Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. "That alone just makes teams have to do something different, whether it's having a running back shift or two guys block him."
Colts tight end Dallas Clark described Freeney as a "game-changer." That isn't an exaggeration. Freeney's availability and potential limitations could be the difference in whether the Colts can stop New Orleans' high-powered offense.
• The Saints running the Hall of Fame quarterback gambit: New Orleans already has ended the season -- and career -- of Arizona's Kurt Warner. The Saints may have done the same with Minnesota's Brett Favre.
The ultimate challenge for an opportunistic Saints defense is Manning, who further cemented his future spot in Canton with an NFL-record fourth Most Valuable Player trophy during the regular season. Manning was human at times in 2009, throwing three interceptions against Denver and two versus New England, Baltimore and Houston. That should give hope to the Saints, which notched 26 regular-season interceptions and forced seven turnovers in two playoff wins.
• Manning vs. Drew Brees: Yes, there is another quarterback in this game. A darn good one, too. Brees enjoyed another spectacular season for New Orleans yet was overshadowed again by Manning in MVP voting. This is Brees' chance to gain the same kind of revered status that Manning enjoys.
• Haiti: Besides Manning, the most popular Colts player during Tuesday's media day will be wide receiver Pierre Garcon. He has carried the Haitian flag after each of the Colts' postseason wins to help draw attention to the relief and rebuilding effort in Port-au-Prince following the recent earthquake.
Vilma -- another Haitian-American -- was featured in the NFL's fundraising commercial. Both players will have a worldwide stage to lobby for further aid.
It also helps that both South Floridians are key players for their respective teams in an area with a sizeable Haitian population. Garcon set an AFC Championship game record with 11 catches against the Jets; Vilma had an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery in the Saints' NFC title win against Minnesota.