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January just means more misery for Manning

J.A. Adande

January 20, 2007|J.A. Adande

INDIANAPOLIS — The worst news of the season for Peyton Manning came when Marty Schottenheimer lost another playoff game.

It was proof that there's an order to things in the NFL, that some things will always happen, just as every cover of every men's fitness magazine always promises "Better Abs!"

Come January, Schottenheimer loses in the playoffs, accompanied or followed by Manning's losing in the playoffs. It doesn't matter that Schottenheimer has won 200 regular-season games, or that Manning has thrown for 37,586 yards.

They have zero Super Bowl appearances between them.

The bleak back story means that even good news has a downside for Manning. The San Diego Chargers' exit from the playoffs took the team with the best record off the board. It meant the Indianapolis Colts get to play host to Sunday's AFC championship game at the RCA Dome, where they're 9-0 this season.

But it also brings Manning face to face with his nemeses: Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, who are responsible for two of Manning's six playoff losses.

You can expect Manning to win this time, but that would be like expecting Wile E. Coyote to catch Road Runner. We know how this story ends, no matter what twists have been inserted.

Yes, the Klutch Kicker, Adam Vinatieri, is now a Colt. But keep this in mind: Two of Vinatieri's three missed kicks this season came against the Patriots. And while people are already scripting the ending to this game, with Vinatieri kicking the winning field goal to beat his former team and send the Colts to the Super Bowl, wouldn't it be ironic if Patriots rookie Stephen Gostkowski made the winning kick?

Some people think it's only fitting that the Colts must go through the Patriots to get to Miami.

"As It Should Be," read the cover of a 20-page preview section produced by the Indianapolis Star newspaper.

"Poetic justice," Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy said.

The only person who didn't seem to welcome the challenge and the accompanying story lines was Manning.

"It wouldn't totally bother me if we would've been playing Oakland in this game," he said.

Were it the Raiders, he wouldn't have to keep hearing about his history of futility. The topic kept coming up in the Colts' media session at a downtown hotel Friday. First, the questions danced around the edges. Then they started to zero in.

Manning stoically stood in there and never snapped. He knows this routine all too well. But when one reporter followed up a question about his playoff frustrations with another question about his playoff frustrations, Manning's shoulders sagged ever so slightly.

"I wouldn't say it doesn't bother me," Manning said. "The past playoff games that we lost versus those guys, they're there, they're part of history. There's nothing we can do to change the outcome of those games."

Still, he feigned a little ignorance.

"People talk about your legacy and what-not," he said. "That's kind of a deep word for me as a quarterback getting ready to play a playoff game."

There's no way the NFL's most cerebral player doesn't grasp the concept of "legacy."

And that's what gets him. He knows media members aren't just filing their daily reports, they're preparing his obituary:

\o7"Peyton Manning, the quarterback who put up record numbers during the regular season but never won a Super Bowl..."

\f7Manning deals with this as well as anyone could. That's one reason I'd like to see him break through. (Another is, it would end the Schottenheimer-like stigma attached to Dungy). Manning represents himself and his team well. He doesn't try to bring water bottles with secret marijuana compartments through airport security checks. He even does a good job in those commercials. Admit it, you chuckled the first 100 times you saw them.

At times, when that no-huddle offense is clicking, it's hard to imagine anyone playing the quarterback position better than Manning. If you saw his fourth-quarter drives to beat the New York Jets and Denver this season, you know what I mean.

I just don't think he has the makeup to deliver in the biggest moments. He's struggling again in these playoffs, with one touchdown and five interceptions. He had that same fidgety look Friday.

Contrast that with the televised news conference with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. As soon as Brady stepped to the podium, his demeanor said: "We've got this."

At one point, Brady grinned, pulled out a couple of twenties and said, "I just found a few bucks in my pocket. Isn't that nice?"

Yes, Brady literally is playing with house money. He has three Super Bowl trophies, which means his spot in the Hall of Fame is secure even though his page on profootballreference.com contains this line: Tom Brady is not in the all-time top 50 in any major category.

Manning, already seventh in passing touchdowns, will get to Canton as well. But if things don't change they'll have to put his bust next to Dan Fouts'.

Fouts was another quarterback with huge numbers -- top eight in passing yardage -- and when he ran that Air Coryell offense for the Chargers in the early '80s he was The Man.

But how often do you hear Fouts' name come up when the topic is all-time greatest quarterbacks? Rarely, and it's because he never went to the Super Bowl.

Speaking of the Chargers and not making the Super Bowl, can you believe they brought back Schottenheimer?

At least Manning will have company.

*

\o7J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog.

\f7

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