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For Colts' Peyton Manning, Jets' Mark Sanchez, a New York state of mind

PRO FOOTBALL

Rookie Sanchez, who's happy as a Jet, and veteran Manning, who supposedly did not love N.Y., face off Sunday as opposing quarterbacks with a Super Bowl berth at stake.

January 24, 2010|By Brad Biggs

While his little brother is the one who engineered a trade to New York on draft day, Peyton Manning has always been viewed as the one who wanted nothing to do with the Big Apple.

Faced with the possibility (or likelihood) of being the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft, Manning instead returned to Tennessee for a senior season that wasn't his best. The Indianapolis Colts selected Manning with the top pick the next year and history is still being made as he will start his 208th consecutive game, counting postseason, today in the AFC championship game.

The Jets traded down from No. 1 in 1997, eventually landing linebacker James Farrior, who will be remembered as an integral part of the Pittsburgh Steelers when his career is over.

They searched and searched for a quarterback. Weak-armed Chad Pennington carried the Jets to the playoffs. Ageless Vinny Testaverde had his moments.

But until landing Mark Sanchez this season when they traded up for the No. 5 pick, the Jets were a desperate bunch. Before the "Sanchise," they tried about everything, including Brett Favre last year.

"Let me be clear, the reason I decided to stay had nothing to do with who had the first pick," Manning said. "My reasons for staying were based purely on the fact that I wanted to be a senior in college. I kind of rushed through my first three years. I wanted to have that one year to slow things down and really enjoy the college experience, and I really did that and had a fun senior year."

Sanchez, a sensation in New York since the draft, now encounters Manning in a David-versus-Goliath meeting of quarterbacks. Sanchez has been charged with not losing it for a team that has a top-ranked running game and top-ranked defense and lives by the motto "ground and pound." Manning, fresh off his fourth most-valuable-player award, is rewriting record books. Sanchez is seeking his place in history too, as the first rookie quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Manning is trying to win his second in four years.

You couldn't find two quarterbacks any more different with a trip to Super Bowl XLIV at stake, and yet here Sanchez is, with a chance. Only Chicago's Jay Cutler threw more interceptions (26) than Sanchez (20). But he has had only one pass intercepted in the last four games.

He has made plays for the Jets in the postseason. Sanchez completed only 12 of 23 passes for 100 yards last week in an upset of the Chargers at San Diego, but it was his scrambling effort that led to a two-yard pass to Dustin Keller for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. He missed on only three passes the week before at Cincinnati.

"He's a rookie," said Steelers guard Alan Faneca, who won a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger was in his second season. "You start seeing things more and more, things become easier, the game slows down a little bit. You're able to play in your element instead of trying to play within the element of the playbook."

The Jets believe Sanchez will soon be a franchise quarterback. Until then, he's just a young guy with a wide smile, showing up for his news conference Friday wearing a black T-shirt with "Wonderboy" across the front and a silver lightning bolt.

"Yep, Roy Hobbs," he said.

Hobbs starred for the New York Knights and Wonderboy was the name of his bat in the novel and film "The Natural."

"I've had it for a while," Sanchez said. "I'm wearing everything that could bring a little something good."

bmbiggs@tribune.com

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