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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ MVP quarterbacks on marquee franchises. A
rematch of a nail-biter from four years ago, featuring many of the
same key characters. Madonna and plenty of Manning _ Eli, and
Peyton, too.

This Super Bowl certainly has all the makings of another
thriller, the perfect finish to a season that began in turmoil and
wound up the most successful in league history.

The NFL couldn’t have planned it any better.

“It’s actually been a very fun week here,” said Patriots
quarterback Tom Brady, seeking his fourth Super Bowl ring in 11
seasons, and doing it in the city where archrival Peyton Manning
has worked for 13 years _ if not for much longer, given his health
issues and disagreements with Colts management. “It’s a bit
surreal to be playing in Indy’s home stadium and to be practicing
at their facility.”

It’s been even weirder for Eli Manning to have led the Giants
here, only to find his superb season and chase for a second
championship overshadowed by big brother.

The most popular storyline this week has been Peyton’s pain in
his neck. Or, rather, his status following three neck surgeries in
19 months; whether the Colts will keep him around, at the cost of a
$28 million roster bonus due in March; and whether he’s truly
feuding with owner Jim Irsay’s rebuilding organization.

Eli, who will surpass his brother for NFL titles with a victory
Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium _ yes, Peyton’s Place _ claims his
sibling’s issues are irrelevant to this game, in which New York
(12-7) is a 3-point underdog.

“I’m proud of Peyton. I’ve talked to him this week. None of
that comes up,” Eli said. “When I talk to Peyton, he does a great
job of trying to keep me relaxed. (We) talk a little football and
talk about New England some. He’s supported me this week. I know
he’s just working hard trying to get healthy and I’m going to
support him on that.”

While Eli would own two championships with a victory, to one for
Peyton, Brady could tie his childhood quarterbacking hero, Joe
Montana, and Terry Bradshaw with four. Coach Bill Belichick would
equal Chuck Noll with the same number.

To get it, the Patriots (15-3) must protect their crown jewel.
Four years ago, Brady was banged around so much by New York that it
turned the Super Bowl in the Giants’ favor.

Yes, they needed David Tyree’s miracle
pin-the-ball-against-the-helmet catch, then Plaxico Burress’
touchdown reception to shatter New England’s perfect season. But
that victory was built on the relentless pressure applied to Brady.

The formula hasn’t changed.

“We feel that we certainly have a very strong group of men in
the front,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It’s just the way we
play and prefer to play. It’s a pressure group, and we have played
better in the back end as well, probably as a result of the ball
having to come out faster than it has at certain times during the

Brady certainly remembers the pain, physically and emotionally,
from the beating he took on the field and the scoreboard.

“Any time you lose, it’s a tough thing,” Brady said. “We’ve
lost one Super Bowl. I remember waking up in Arizona the next
morning after an hour of sleep thinking, `That was a nightmare,
that didn’t happen.’ After time, you learn to move on and get over

The Giants got all over Brady again during their regular season
24-20 win at Foxborough, the last time the Patriots lost. That
victory preceded a four-game slide, and New York eventually slipped
to 7-7 before turning it around.

Adding to the juicy potential of a down-to-the-wire reprise of
2008, both teams barely made it to Indy. The Patriots needed backup
cornerback Sterling Moore stripping the ball from Baltimore
receiver Lee Evans in the end zone in the final seconds, then for
Billy Cundiff to miss a 32-yard field goal that would have forced

The Giants went into overtime in San Francisco, using two
botched punt returns by the 49ers to advance.

“We feel very fortunate to be here, and I’m pretty sure they
do, too,” Patriots Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “But we
also know we deserve to be here, and they know they deserve it. We
are two very good and very confident teams.”

Teams owned by two of the key figures in solving the 4 1/2-month
lockout of the players last year. New England’s Robert Kraft
shuttled back and forth from the meetings to his dying wife’s
bedside late in the negotiating process. Myra Kraft passed away
days before the lockout was resolved.

His players wore a patch with her initials MHK on the left side
of their jerseys this season.

“The fact that she was so dear to me and all of our players are
wearing her initials above their heart is an endearing thing,”
Kraft said. “What she represented is important and I hope that
special sense of spirit comes through.”

Giants owner John Mara played an equally important role in the
labor negotiations, and when both teams reached the Super Bowl,
Kraft mentioned “a certain karma” about the matchup.

“I’m not necessarily happy to be playing Bill Belichick and Tom
Brady, I’ll tell you that,” Mara joked. “But yeah, I’m very happy
for Bob because he put his heart and soul into those negotiations
during a very difficult time for him and his family, so I think the
success they’ve had is well-deserved.”

When they finally kick off Sunday, the two biggest stars will be
Brady and Manning _ yes, Eli. Not halftime performer Madonna, but
the quarterbacks on whose arms, wits and leadership this Super Bowl
will turn.

“They are both leaders on the field,” Wilfork said. “I think
that position you have to be smart, you have to be intelligent. I
think you have to understand what’s going on around you. I think
both those guys have that.”

On Sunday, we’ll see which one adds to his championship legacy
with another Super Bowl ring.


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