MIAMI - Peyton Manning spent the whole season building toward a Super Bowl crown, a win that certainly would put him among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
And then he threw it all away.
Blocked onto his butt, Manning could only watch as Tracy Porter returned an interception for a clinching, 74-yard touchdown in the final minutes Sunday that gave the New Orleans Saints a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
“It’s certainly disappointing. Very disappointed. Disappointed,” Manning said.
It was a startling end to a Super Bowl that seemed destined to wind up in Manning’s strong right hand. It was the lone turnover of a back-and-forth thriller — who in the world would have thought the big mistake could be made by Manning?
Yet there he was, sitting on the grass after brawny Saints defensive end Will Smith knocked him down as he tried to make a tackle. Manning took a glance over his shoulder to watch Porter’s romp to the end zone, unbuckled his chin strap, stood up and simply walked toward the bench.
“We probably never got into a great rhythm. We were certainly worse in lapses in our final possession,” Manning said.
All week, this was the story line in Miami: Could Manning, a New Orleans boy through and through, deny the Saints in a game they desperately wanted to win for their city?
Turned out he helped his hometown team win its first Super Bowl — only not in the way he imagined.
Dad Archie Manning, the longtime star Saints quarterback, got caught smack in the middle.
“I was pulling for the Colts. I’m not quite over that, but I’m happy for New Orleans,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’m going to celebrate or not. Maybe later, when the city does, but I’m not in a celebrating mood. Glad to see everybody else in New Orleans celebrate. That’s enough for me now,” he said.
Added Archie: “I’m proud of him. ... It just wasn’t meant to be.”
His son repeated the word “disappointing” at least 10 times in his postgame interview session, using it to describe everything from the Colts not having the ball much in the second quarter to the interception that decided the title.
“I understand how excited the Saints are, their families and the city of New Orleans is going to be,” he said. “I’m sorry to our fans that we weren’t able to get it done.”
Until Porter cut in front of receiver Reggie Wayne on the left side, Manning seemed to be in charge. The four-time MVP did his dance at the line of scrimmage, putting his teammates in position, and zipped pass completions all over the field.
The Colts set an NFL record with seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season, and surely most everyone at Sun Life Stadium thought ol’ Peyton was at it again. Down 24-17, the Colts were driving toward a tying score until Porter sealed it with 3:12 left.
Manning had been MVP of the Colts’ victory in the Super Bowl on the very same field three years ago, and was a good bet to win the trophy once more. Instead, the night finished the same way his final college game at Tennessee ended — a bruising loss to Nebraska, also on this field.
Even after Porter’s pick, Manning tried to rally the Colts. He moved them near the Saints’ goal line, but a final pass to Wayne fell incomplete.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the beneficiary of Manning’s pep talks while in college at Purdue, took a knee to run out the clock and start New Orleans’ party.
“I’ll certainly talk to Drew,” Manning said. “There’s not much consolation for the guys that didn’t win. There’s the stage being set up and the celebration.”
Manning wound up 31 for 45 for 333 yards and one touchdown. He finished one short of the Super Bowl record for completions set by Tom Brady and tied by Brees, though the one pass he threw to the Saints will be the one that fans remember, and it’ll be the pick that’s shown on highlight films for years.
“It’s kind of a play we’ve run a lot. Porter made a heck of play,” Manning said.
Said Porter: “It was great film study. The coaches did a great job of preparing us for that route.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
As he walked from the sideline to the huddle with his head down to start the fourth quarter, Manning suddenly found himself surrounded by three dozen Colts cheerleaders rushing off the field after their routine. He stopped, let them pass and kept on his way.
Early in the period, Manning made one of his few bad throws, floating a deep ball that fell incomplete near the goal line. Manning threw down a towel when he got to the bench.
Moments later, the giant video board showed his younger brother, Eli, in the crowd. Eli was the MVP of the Super Bowl two years ago as QB of the New York Giants, but there was no celebrating this time.
Most celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, Gloria Estefan and Scottie Pippen smiled when they showed up on the board. Not Eli. He merely looked straight ahead, a blank stare.
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