FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.

Freeney on the mend?

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, who is questionable with a sprained right ankle, said Wednesday that he felt much better and expressed cautious optimism he will be able to play in Super Bowl XLIV. Freeney has been walking around barefoot and along the beach near the team's hotel on the Atlantic Ocean.

"Sometimes, walking is good because it keeps things fluid," Freeney said. "You hear people say he should be in a boot or something. But sometimes it can get stiff, and you've got to get that motion back in the ankle. It gets the blood flowing, so I've been walking around barefoot and in the sand."

Freeney has tried almost everything to get better. That includes ice, oxygen chambers and even a visit to a chiropractor.

"It's better than yesterday, and yesterday was better than the day before,'' he said. "It's a slow progression right now, but that's where it is. Every morning I wake up, and it feels a little better."

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Colts rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers is also questionable. He hurt his left foot in the divisional round against the Ravens and didn't play in the AFC Championship Game against the Jets.

More weirdness for Archie Manning

OK, let's review: Archie Manning, former Saints quarterback, current New Orleans resident, father of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Rooting for his son to beat his old team. Understandable.

But Archie Wednesday accepted an award on behalf of the Saints' offensive line, which won the Madden Most Valuable Protectors award, sponsored by Prilosec OTC and voted by the fans.

Too bad Manning didn't have that kind of offensive line when he played.

"I never really wanted to know that number," he said of how often he was sacked during 11 seasons in New Orleans. The depressing answer: 340.

"It's probably not a record, but I had a pretty good average going there. It was around 40 or 50 [a year]. A lot of times, it was my fault."

The worst year?

"It was 1980, and that was the year we thought we'd be pretty good," he said. "We'd done pretty well the year before [8-8], and it just fell apart. We'd lost about the first 11 or 12 and [sons] Cooper and Peyton were going to the games. They were 6 and 4 and they're old enough to go and they're enjoying it."

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No Eli?

"Olivia is pregnant with Eli," he said. "I'm having one of those games and about the fourth quarter, Cooper asked Olivia if he and Peyton could boo also. She was looking for a reason to quit going because she was getting pretty big with Eli. And she said, 'That's it. I'm going to check out for 1980.' "

 

Shockey-Vilma combo lives on

Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey and linebacker Jonathan Vilma were teammates at Miami and were drafted by New York teams. Shockey went to the Giants, Vilma to the Jets.

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Then they got hurt.

Then they got traded.

To the same team.

Small world.

"Jonathan's a great guy," Shockey said. "We came in together; we hit it off with each other. We'd always do one-on-one practice drills with each other. He got hurt early when he came in, I think his knee, and I had a successful season that year. He came back and played very well the next year. His determination of playing at this level, and even in the college level, has been unparalleled to a lot of people that I've met.

"A lot of people have more talent than him, but you won't outwork him. A lot of people have more talent than myself, and it's hard to outwork both of us, because the University of Miami has instilled in our brain, just work, work, work, work harder. They might beat you the first 10 times, but the next 100 times, you're going to win."

Greatest kicker ever? Not playing

Remember Adam Vinatieri, who has four Super Bowl rings? Well, he's on the Colts' active roster, but he's not expected to play Sunday.

Vinatieri, who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and another with the Colts, has been out since mid-October after arthroscopic knee surgery. He believes he's healthy enough to play, but the Colts are expected to go with former Raven Matt Stover.

"I'd love to be out there, but I understand if I'm not," Vinatieri said. "I've been feeling much better the last couple of weeks, but the fact is I haven't played, so it makes a lot of sense for Matt to kick."

If called upon, Vinatieri will be ready. Just as he was for what could be the most famous kick in NFL history. Remember that 45-yarder for the Patriots . . . in the snow . . . against the Raiders to send the divisional-round game into overtime? The field goal came shortly after it was ruled that Tom Brady hadn't fumbled, but the Patriots retained possession because of the "tuck rule," a highly controversial reversal.

"People ask out of 100 times I would have made that kick, and I'd say probably less than 50. Maybe less than 40, or even 30. I'm just happy I did it."

Are the Colts wearing

the black hat?

With all the good will for the Saints and their unlikely march to the Super Bowl, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Colts may not be the popular choice among casual fans.

Understandable, says Peyton Manning. And he's from New Orleans.

"We certainly understand that we may not be the team that everybody is cheering for in this game," he said. "We are OK with that. It is going to be two great teams playing against each other. I think the Super Bowl, as far as non-New Orleans Saints, non-Colts fans, somebody is going to pick a team to follow, and they probably will pick the Saints and that is fine.

"When it comes down to the game, though, it gets down to the X's and O's. I think the more you can block out on the outside, the better you are going to be on just focusing on how to move the ball against [Will] Smith, [Darren] Sharper, [Jonathan] Vilma. How to stop [Drew] Brees and their offense. That is what it comes down to all along. Once the game starts, that is what it is really about."