For all the intriguing subplots (African-American coaches, Rex Grossman’s loopy unpredictability, the Colts’ suspect run defence) next Monday morning’s Super Bowl is really about one man only: Peyton Manning. The ring is his to win; it is also his to lose.

Manning is the new John Elway – or rather, the new old John Elway, the one who went to three Super Bowls without a victory. Great player, shame about the need for post-season Heimlich treatment. (Elway made it to his fourth Super Bowl at the age of 37 and finally won one, then repeated the dose the following year.)

30-year-old Manning has been selected to seven Pro Bowls, has twice been NFL MVP and has a string of records as long as Marvin Harrison’s arms – but his post-season record is dismal, 3-6 before this season. The match-up against the Bears will be his 145th NFL start but his first in a Super Bowl.

Manning’s bleak record on the biggest stages has been lampooned by satirists (strong language alert), criticised by teammates and consistently raised by scribes, leading to his frustrated-sounding assertion after booking a ticket to the season decider that, “I don’t get into monkeys and vindication. I just don’t play that card.”

Even at the Uni of Tennessee there was a knock on the prolific Peyton that he was prone to bouts of Greg Normanism in clutch situations. He now has an opportunity to erase the perception for good.

It will be – dare we say it – a monkey off the back of the whole family: patriarch Archie Manning played ten full seasons at New Orleans and was an individual star but apart from the Saints going 8-8 in 1979, every other year was a losing one. Peyton’s brother Eli Manning has become the favorite target of New York cynics after a lousy year with the Giants. Another brother, Cooper, had his football career cut short by a spinal condition. The family is due a major win.

The Super Bowl is a quarterback’s game. 20 of the Super Bowl’s 41 MVPs have been QBs. Manning has more autonomy on field than any quarterback for a generation, and if the Colts win then it should be via his generalship.

The thumb on his throwing hand is apparently bruised after collecting a lineman’s helmet last start, but Brett Favre famously played a season with a busted thumb on his gun hand and Manning needs to show similar grit. You don’t put your first Super Bowl ring on your thumb, anyway.

For what it’s worth, we are tipping Manning to become the 21st QB MVP as the Colts triumph over the Bears 28-10.

Peter Fray

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