Published 12:00 am Monday, February 5, 2007

Focused on Sunday, Manning seeking normal mindset as quickly as possible

By John Oehser

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The trick, Peyton Manning believes, is to feel normal.

It’s a big-time trick for the Colts’ quarterback this week, because this is Super Bowl week, and for an NFL player, it’s the most &#8220un-normal week of all.”

Witness Mannings Super Bowl XLI week to date:

He has spoken to the media three consecutive days, two more than his &#8220normal” schedule in a game week.

He has been the focus of attention nationwide, and beyond.

He has answered questions.

He has been polite.

He has been humorous.

He has been engaging.

And through it all, he has maintained a consistent stance, sent a consistent message that the game, despite the opinion of many analysts and prognosticators, is not about him alone, and it is certainly not about his legacy, whatever that may mean.

&#8220I don’t play the, ‘What-If Game’” Manning said as the AFC Champion Colts (15-4) prepared to play the NFC Champion Chicago Bears (15-3) in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., Sunday at 6:25 p.m.

The key, said he Manning believes, is to approach the game as normally as possible.

It’s a theme Manning has discussed all week, something he has emphasized to anyone who would listen, and it?s one he addressed extensively during a 45-minute sit-down session Thursday, the last day he is scheduled to address the media until Sunday.

&#8220Right now, I’m trying to do whatever I can to get prepared,” said Manning, who is playing in his first Super Bowl at the end of his ninth NFL season. &#8220The focus is to go out there and get prepared as best I can.”

Manning, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, spoke to several quarterbacks with Super Bowl experience the week after the AFC Championship Game. He said he sought their advice on how to approach a Super Bowl, and what he said he gleaned was that the key was to find a way to make an otherwise, chaotic, emotional, pressurized situation comparatively routine.

Toward that end, Manning ? a seven-time Pro Bowl selection,&#8220 said he is keeping his schedule as close to normal as possible. He said is trying to eat the same time as a normal game week, study film the same as a normal game week, etc.

And while there has been more media focus on Manning than nearly any other player in the game, he discounted the notion Thursday that there is somehow more pressure on Indianapolis than the Bears Sunday.

&#8220The expectations on both teams are pretty much equal,” Manning said. &#8220You work so hard to get to this point, to give yourself the opportunity, that I think each team has high expectations in this game. I guarantee you this was the goal of the Bears coming into this season. Our goals are very much the same. Now, we both have an opportunity.

&#8220We want to go out there and try to accomplish it.”

While a theme this week ? as well as for the last several seasons ? has been what such an accomplishment will mean to Manning, and where it would place him among the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks, Manning said that wasn’t a concern.

Not now, and really not for a number of years.

&#8220That?s really hard for me to answer,” Manning said. &#8220Maybe you can ask me that in eight years or so, when I retire. I don”t think about it a whole lot.”

Manning said the only real thought he gives to such things is how long he hopes to play, and he reiterated Thursday his goal of playing about 15 or 16 seasons.

I’ve always said I wanted to play, if possible and if my health permitted about 15 or 16 years,” Manning said. &#8220My dad played 15. I always admired (Dolphins quarterback Dan) Marino and (Broncos quarterback John) Elway. They played 16 or 17 years with the same franchise. . . .

&#8220They made a commitment to that city and I?ve been very much the same way about Indianapolis. . . .”

Mostly, Manning said, he?ll spend the next few days focusing on the game, and at least part of that time will be spent focusing on how he will approach the game emotionally.

The early moments of a Super Bowl game can be among the most emotional of a player’s career, and controlling nerves and adrenaline is key.

And as far as Manning can see, doing so is an extension of the same task he has for the next few days – keeping his life as normal as possible in a week that’s as un-normal as any he ever has experienced.

&#8220The challenge is to find some sort of routine, or normalcy, and to get back into a rhythm,” Manning said. &#8220Hopefully, I can do it on the first series, if that’s possible. The idea is to try to try to stick to your fundamentals and get out there and do your job.”

— From