My iPhone buzzes every 28 seconds. This is not popularity. Obviously. This is the NFL emailing me another Super Bowl quote sheet. And another. And another. Remi Ayodele! Raheem Brock! Jeff Saturday! Queen Latifah!
Super Bowl quote sheets are one of the many things that stunned me when I started to cover the Super Bowl. If you cannot talk to the players (or get to the all the players you needed), the league will go and talk to the players for you. They would get you quotes. Free. Incredible. Now, true, these were not always the most compelling and enlightening quotes ...
Sample quote from Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark quote sheet:
(On how the Colts adjust during the game): "There's a lot of adjusting and making moves on the go."
... but, seriously, how could you beat this? They would get quotes for you ... from virtually every player on both teams. Plus coaches. Plus celebrities. One of the things I would do at every Super Bowl I ever attended was collect all the quote sheets -- I go back to that era when we would read things on this substance called "paper" -- and read through them to see if I could learn anything about the game. I did not learn anything* but it was fun.
*It was also dangerous. The thing about reading all the quotes is that, at some point, you start to buy into the clichés and the hype and you can begin to lose touch with reality. I remember the San Francisco-San Diego Super Bowl here in Miami in 1995. Coming in, everybody KNEW the 49ers were going to wax the Chargers. That game had no chance to be close. I knew this on Monday. But during the week, I talked to a lot of players and I read all the quote sheets, and by Thursday, I started to think that, 'Hey, maybe the Chargers had a chance.' By Saturday, I had so much knowledge and perspective that the game seemed to be a toss-up.
Then, on the first play on Super Bowl Sunday ... San Francisco's Steve Young threw a bomb to Jerry Rice, who was open by about 45 yards. And I thought: "Hmmm, I guess I was right the first time."
They still have the actual Super Bowl quote sheets -- covering about 10 picnic size tables -- but now the league magically transmits them right into my phone and ... hold on, my phone's buzzing. Hey, it's a Super Bowl quote sheet from New Orleans coach Sean Payton. Let's see what it says.
(Opening Statement): "It's been a good week of practice. We have two more; one today and a walk through tomorrow at the stadium."
Riveting. OK, so now I'm going to attempt the ultimate Super Bowl magic trick ... I'm going to write a Super Bowl XLIV story with XLIV quotes in it. Please, don't try this at home.
* * *
Well, we know the clichés. We know, as New Orleans receiver Courtney Roby says, "Special teams will be very, very important." We know, as Saints backup quarterback Mark Brunell says, the teams have to "go out there and execute."*
*Or in the words of Indianapolis defensive back Antoine Bethea "Go out there and make plays".**
**Or in the words of New Orleans linebacker Scott Shanle: "I think you make your own luck."
We know that turnovers will play a major role in the game because both offenses are so good. "The name of the game in football, especially for defense, is creating turnovers," Saints cornerback Jabari Greer says. It's an interesting twist adding that "especially for defense" in there.
Colts defensive back Kelvin Hayden is even more direct. "We want to force turnovers," he says.
But these things are basically true of every Super Bowl -- of every football game, really. Special teams. Turnovers. Make your own luck. Whatever. The question is: What makes THIS Super Bowl special? What defines this matchup between a Saints team that won their 13 games and a Colts club that won their first 14 games? What makes Super Bowl XLIV different from the XLIII games that came before?
Well, you have to start with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. It's a funny thing: When the season ended, people were discussing who should be MVP. Seriously? What would Indy's record be this year if they had even an average NFL quarterback? Before you answer, remember: The Colts finished dead-last in rushing offense. They had one proven wide receiver -- Reggie Wayne -- and a couple of young guys with unlikely football names: Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Their defense finished 18th in yards allowed and 18th in forcing turnovers and 17th in sacks.
And that team won its first 14 games and reached the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning isn't just the league's MVP this year, he might be the league's ALL-TIME MVP.
"Unlike everybody I've been around," Colts quarterback coach Frank Reich says. "He knows everything that's going on, on the field. Everything."
I believe Manning will go down as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He might already be there. And while, yes, it does something seem that Manning is overexposed -- you can't escape Peyton Manning -- he is probably the best spokesman for any sport in America right now. What's not to like? He's classy, he's funny, he's an incredible player. A lot of that, of course, comes from his father. I really like this quote from Peyton -- on joining Archie Manning on the field after a game as a child.
"My dad would always come out and get us on the field and take a little time to be with us," Peyton says. "He always would sign his autographs for all fans after the games. Most of these times after tough losses. But I couldn't tell at the time. I didn't really know if they won or lost at the time. I was 3, 4, 5 years old. He was always the same. So that always had a positive influence on me."
Manning, of course, is unlike any other quarterback. He knows. He maneuvers. He may be funny in commercials but not on the field ("He's not really cracking jokes in the huddle," Colts offensive tackle Ryan Diem says). Before every play, it seems, Manning points this way. He yells that way. He waves his arms. He shouts what sounds like nonsense.
"Everything Peyton does means something," Collie says.
"Ninety-five percent of the time, it's real," running back Joseph Addai.
Yes, even Colts teammates disagree about how much of Payton's motions are significant. There are many people -- Saints included -- who think A LOT of Peyton's act is a bluff, empty audibles, football fog.
"You can try to play that chess game and go back and forth with Peyton," Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma says. "I don't know how long you want to do that."
"I don't know how you match wits with the guy," Saints safety Roman Harper says. "The guy is all over the place."
Well, one thing the Saints hope to do is hit Manning -- early, late and often. When the undefeated Patriots faced the Giants in the Super Bowl two years ago, it was widely believed that no team could intimidate Tom Brady or slow down New England. But the Giants pressured Brady relentlessly, and under that kind of heat even the best offenses and most brilliant quarterbacks can wilt.
"We need to deliver some remember-me hits," New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said on a radio show ... a bit of Super Bowl bulletin board material that inspired Saints coach Sean Payton to send him a shut-up breakfast of peanut butter and sand. But Williams is exactly right. The Saints have built a reputation as a defense that plays on the edge, maybe even over the edge, maybe even dirty ...
"I wouldn't say we're dirty," Saints defensive end Will Smith says. "I'd just say we're a team that plays hard."
Well maybe dirty is overstating it a bit, maybe there's a better word ... "We don't know if we want to call ourselves dirty," Saints safety Darren Sharper says, "but ... it is like taking a shower when you get up in the morning and are going to cut your grass. You are nice and fresh when you cut the grass. But at the end you have a little griminess to you. We want to call ourselves a little grimy."
OK, fine, grimy. Whatever the word, the Saints best hope of slowing down Manning is, like Gregg Williams says, to knock down Manning.
"Look, everybody talks about disrupting Peyton's rhythm, getting him hit, making him nervous, making him get happy feet, all of those things that you would say about every other quarterback," Saturday says. "The good thing is that Gregg doesn't play."
Of course, there are so many other stories besides for Manning. There's the city of New Orleans -- lots of talk this week about how important the Saints have been to the city rebuilding itself after Hurricane Katrina. "All the time, they're telling us we inspire them," Saints center Jonathan Goodwin says. "And they inspire us."
Yes, the Saints players have talked a lot about their chemistry. New Orleans guard Jahri Evans summed it up: "We hang out together -- go to the mall together, chill out together, play video games together. We do it all."
Hang? Check. Chill out? Check. Go to mall? Check. Play video games? Check. Yep, that's just about everything.
The Saints also have a female owner, Rita Benson LeBlanc, who has been quotable this week. "I wasn't very athletically inclined," she says. "I was a manager, that kind of thing. So, I would be involved, but I have very interesting peripheral vision. I'm one of those people that will duck away from the ball."
But the two big stars on the Saints side -- for two very different reasons -- are quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush. Brees has been one of the all-time overachievers. He was lightly recruited out of high school, told many times that he was too small to play in the NFL, and suffered a shoulder injury that many thought could end his career. Only here he is, a superstar quarterback leading the Saints to the Super Bowl. I think you can learn a lot about Brees by just reading a quote he gave when asked about the fleur-de-lis symbol on the Saints helmet. That's one of the Super Bowl questions that usually gets a quick and dismissive answer. Brees offered a history lesson instead.
"The fleur-de-lis symbol dates back to the French monarchy," he says. "So much of New Orleans' culture comes from the time when we were under French rule. That's just a big part of the culture. It's a big part of what New Orleans is all about. So when you look at that symbol, it is the symbol of the city."
That quarterback can lead my team anytime.
Bush, on the other hand, has been a chronic disappointment. He came out with, what Brees calls, the highest expectations of any player in the history of the NFL. And I think that may be right, or it's certainly very close. Bush, mainly, has not met those expectations. He has had injuries. He does not seem to have the durability or makeup to be an every-down back. Hey, he can be a gamebreaker. He's fun to watch and an exciting player as a receiver, third-down back, kick returner. But as of right now, he seems more in the Eric Metcalf mold than Barry Sanders mold.
"I kind of imagined that I'd have a couple Super Bowl rings by now and a couple Pro Bowls," Bush admits. "It's a tough league."
On the Colts' side, much of the talk has been about pass-rusher deluxe Dwight Freeney, who has a nasty ankle injury and may or may not play.
"You want him," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis says. "If he is not in there, it has to be next man up."
"Freeney's got some voodoo witch magic," Colts linebacker Gary Brackett says.
"I think this is part of the game," Freeney himself says. "You don't really want to reveal everything."
Yes, secrecy is another part of Super Bowl week. Or as Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey says, "Even if I had the answers for you, I would never tell you." The coaches -- particularly Sean Payton -- would like to keep things quiet. With Payton, this could be because his particular genius seems to be his ability to line up and create match-up problems for the other team.
"Coach Payton does a good job of different formations and plays every week to create the match-ups that we are looking for," Saints tight end David Thomas says.
"He knows how to scratch where it itches, so to speak," says Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer -- a quote so good I don't even have to understand what it means to use it.
Yes, Payton seemed to turn around the Saints using his strategic skills and his remarkable memory for detail. "He was telling a story about when he first got into coaching," Saints GM Mickey Loomis was saying. "He was talking about the breakfast that he had eight years ago, and he knew exactly what he had for breakfast. If he could remember exactly what he had for breakfast eight years before, then I knew he was detailed because I can't remember what I had for breakfast [Thursday]. "
Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell is a bit tougher to explain. He was a longtime college assistant who coached at Wake Forest for eight years, posted a 26-63 record and got fired. That hardly seems to lead to Super Bowl glory. But Caldwell's particular strength seems to be a certain steadiness ... the players feel like they can count on him all the time. Listen to his quote when someone asked how he would feel if the Colts lost:
"Would it be okay if I didn't answer that in that regard?" he asked back. "I'm a big believer in self-fulfilling prophecies. There is a Chinese proverb that says 'Be careful if your life is shaped by your thoughts.' So, I stay away from that kind of ending. I haven't seen that ending in my mind or am I contemplating or thinking about it at this point in time."
There is something about being positive ... something about never letting small problems slow you ... something about a constant force of optimism that can make good teams and veteran teams respond. Tony Dungy had it. Jim Caldwell, apparently, has it too.
So, what else have players been talking about. Well, they have been talking about how important vision is for a football player.
"The biggest thing is your eyes," Saints corner Tracy Porter said about being a shutdown corner.
"Vision is imperative," Colts running back Donald Brown says. "Holes don't stay open for long so you need to be able to see everything."
OK. And, of course, many players have been talking about the hype of the Super Bowl, the significance of it, the honor of playing here.
"It's the Super Bowl," Saints defensive end Bobby McCray says. "There is really nothing that can overcome that."
"I have been trying to soak it up without acting like a tourist," New Orleans guard Carl Nicks says.
"Let me tell you something," Reggie Wayne says. "I turned my phone on this morning, the first thing that popped up was 40 text messages. I immediately cut it back off."
Then, there were these two quotes that seem to play well off each other. Someone asks Colts linebacker Clint Sessions about fame. He shrugs.
"People really don't know who you are when you play defense," he says. "Unless you are Ray Lewis or Darrelle Revis people don't know who you are."
OK, fine. But someone asks Colts defensive tackle Daniel Muir how he gets fired up.
"Looking up," he says. "Looking up in the stands, you see thousands of people and you're just like, 'Man, they're all here watching me.'"
Of course ... you know all those people in the stands are probably NOT watching Daniel Muir. But I prefer his line of thinking.
And finally, there are a few straggler quotes to help up get to the 44 we need to finish off this baby.
Here's New Orleans receiver Marques Colston on his philosophy of playing receiver: "I like to see myself as a guy that can be open even when I'm not open."
Here's Indianapolis' ancient Matt Stover -- who is actually two years younger than I am -- on what kind of pressure a kicker feels when trying to make a game-winning kick: "If you've ever had a 10-foot putt for 100 dollars with a close friend, multiply that by 1,000 and that's what it's like."
Someone asks New Orleans tackle Jermon Bushrod to grade his performance: "The only grades I need to know is a 'W' or an 'L'."
Many people ask Garcon, who is of Haitian descent, how he feels playing here with the devastation in Haiti. This answer, I think, sums up his thoughts: "It means a lot. To make it to the Super Bowl is very tough, but to be here with everything that's going on in Haiti, it means a lot for me and the Haitian people that are dealing with it. It is probably bringing a bit of happiness to them dealing with what they're dealing with right now."
Here's Brock on the Colts playing outdoors: "They have a good field here in Miami. It is nice to play outside. Hopefully it is not raining."
And finally, a quote from Colts legendary offensive line coach Howard Mudd. He has been coaching offensive lines in the NFL since 1974, and has seen everything, coached every kind of player, had every kind of success. If you can follow the scheme of this quote, I suspect you too could be an offensive line coach:
"You have to be willing to throw the ball in the dirt and go punt if you have to. That is a characteristic, if you can't get them all blocked, you have to be able to do that. If you stand there and hold it that is when people have the most problems with that team is when they have unblocked guys. Maybe the quarterback thought he was going to be blocked or they have them all blocked and they aren't. You can see play after play with other teams. Not all other teams, but in situations they get caught without knowing who wasn't blocked and they raise havoc. In a different, but similar way, that sounds contradictory, but it is not."
Well said. Yes, well said.