INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning couldn't wait to put the AFC champion hat on his head, doing so only seconds after the Indianapolis Colts, his Colts, beat the New England Patriots 38-34 Sunday night in a classic game that certainly had to make the higher ups at CBS happy.
Too bad the hat didn't say what you know Manning and many of those close to him wish it could have said, which was either one of these:
|This win was Peyton's win. There's no doubt about it. (US Presswire)|
For years, Manning has lived with talk that he couldn't win the big game, casting him as the Dan Marino of this generation, a gaudy numbers quarterback who failed in the clutch and couldn't will his team to a Super Bowl. They said he was the football equivalent to A-Rod, which is not exactly saying you're good in the clutch.
But with one magical drive, a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown march that put the Colts ahead by four with a minute left, Manning exorcized his demons, fittingly doing so against the New England Patriots and Tom Brady.
When Brady was picked off by Marlin Jackson in the final seconds with 16 ticks left, it set off a wild celebration in the RCA Dome, putting the Colts in Super Bowl XLI in Miami against the Chicago Bears. Down on the bench, Manning, his head bowed for much of the final drive, could finally exhale.
He was going to the Super Bowl.
It took the greatest comeback in a conference championship game -- from down 21-3 -- to make it happen.
"We had to do it the hard way," Colts coach Tony Dungy said.
But asked about validation after the game, Manning shooed away any chance of that type of talk.
"I just don't get into it," Manning said. "I don't play that card. I don't get into monkeys and vindication and -- I just don't play that card."
Later, when pressed, he said, "Some of that stuff is too deep for me."
Anybody who knows the competitive Manning, and there may be none more competitive, knows that he was choosing his words wisely, because it indeed does matter.