FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Welcome to "Hype Week," a unique phenomenon that enters its 44th year, bigger and better than ever.
Allow us to set the stage for Super Bowl XLIV between the Saints and Colts by offering a cornucopia of tidbits, story lines, X's and O's and other items to begin the über-thorough coverage of the crowning moment of the NFL season.
A win-win Super Bowl?OK, so it will be painful for whichever team loses, given the stakes. But there is plenty of upside no matter how the game turns out.
If the Saints win, it will be a monumental lift for a city that endured the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which nearly resulted in the team abandoning New Orleans. How can you not root at some level for a team representing a city that lost so much yet has clawed its way back with such remarkable resilience and flat-out guts. Bravo to every citizen of the Gulf Coast who has fought through such difficult times.
And if Indy wins? Consider it another step by Peyton Manning toward cementing his legacy as one of the best players in the game's rich history. Manning has been the most dynamic offensive player of his generation, yet he needs this one to once and for all put the label of playoff disappointment behind him. Not that getting here hasn't gone a long way toward addressing that knock, but a second ring would offer further vindication.
The little engines that could
What we love most about the NFL: No matter the size of a team's city - from the megalopolis of New York to the small-town charm of Green Bay - everyone is on equal footing when it comes to building a team. Thanks to its revenue-sharing philosophy, there is no big-market advantage in the NFL.
This will be the first Super Bowl matching teams from the league's 10 smallest markets since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Indianapolis is ranked 22nd in size, with New Orleans 31st. Only Green Bay is smaller.
Offense, not defense, wins this championshipWait. What happened to the "defense wins championships" credo? Can Saints-Colts possibly be turning this adage on its ear?
Offenses are the underpinnings of both teams' success, as proven by Manning and Drew Brees finishing 1-2 in the MVP voting. Defenses? Not much to write home about. The Colts ranked 18th during the regular season. The Saints? They were 25th.
Key stat: No defense ranked lower than 21st ever won a Super Bowl. That 21st-ranked defense? The 2006 Colts, who beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Former Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey has a chance to win his second Super Bowl ring, but this one would be a whole lot more satisfying. Shockey was in a luxury box watching his teammates win Super Bowl XLII in dramatic fashion against the previously unbeaten Patriots. He missed the playoffs with a broken leg, and understudy Kevin Boss did a fine job in Shockey's absence.
Shockey was traded to the Saints shortly before training camp the following season, and now has the opportunity to win one on the field. Can't wait to catch up to the outspoken tight end on media day. He's been far more subdued since arriving in New Orleans, but we suspect he'll provide plenty of fodder on the big stage this week.
Who dat say we can't print "Who dat"?
Saints fans have been using the "Who dat?" cheer since the early 1980s, and the expression has been a staple of the Superdome crowd. But the expression created plenty of controversy in recent days, as the NFL sought to prevent local New Orleans stores from selling merchandise with "Who dat?" emblazoned across the goods.
The NFL is claiming the Saints have a copyright on the expression when used on officially licensed apparel, and several cease-and-desist letters were distributed to local vendors. But after a firestorm of controversy and plenty of support for the mom-and-pop stores, the NFL has backed off.
Interesting New York-related tidbit on the spread of the "Who dat?" cheer. Former Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda, whose diving catch in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series will forever be remembered, was a New Orleans sportscaster in 1983 when he first heard the expression. Swoboda encouraged his television station, WVUE, to use the phrase on his Monday night show, and it quickly caught on.
Archie Manning's dual connection
Former Saints quarterback Archie Manning makes his home in New Orleans and has loved every minute of his old team's resurgence. He's delighted to see the team once referred to as the Aints qualify for the Super Bowl.
But that's where the rooting stops. Manning will be cheering for his son over his adopted hometown, where he raised sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli.
"On the one hand, I've lived in New Orleans and played there," Archie Manning said. "I've been through this experience, through a lot of lean days. I've watched the franchise grow in the last two years and you know they are doing things right. This has been a spectacular year and I have admired the work just like everyone else."
And on the other hand?
"I have a son playing in Indianapolis and we support him. That's where my allegiance has got to be. I can pull for the Colts and for Peyton but at the same time, I can still be very proud of all the Saints and everything that has been accomplished there."
Good answer from a good man.
Kurt Warner rooting for the Saints?
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement Friday after 12 seasons, appears to be a Saints fan.
After Warner lost what would be his final NFL game to the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs, he sent Saints coach Sean Payton a box of brownies.
And after last Sunday's 31-28 overtime win over the Vikings, Warner sent along some more.
"After the [Cardinals] game, we got a box of Fairy Tale Brownies sent from Kurt Warner just congratulating us," Payton said. Same deal last week. "He said it was good luck for you last week, so here's another box."
Consider it a safe bet that Warner plans to send along one more box if the Saints win Sunday.
Hey, Peyton, "remember me?"
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made some rather interesting remarks to a Nashville radio station last week, suggesting that his pass rushers would "have to make sure [Manning] gets a couple 'remember me' shots when we get there."
A suggestion the Saints would like to hurt Manning if given the chance? We'll see. Then again, the Jets made no secret about their intention to rattle Manning with a few shots. How'd that work out?
Payton sought to downplay the remarks . . . as you'd expect.
"I think both defensive lines want to get to the quarterback," Payton said. "That starts in training camp. So yeah, I think much is being made of that . . . I think that's a great example of Super Bowl week."
Indeed. Expect plenty more in the days ahead.