This story was written by CBSSports.com National Columnist Mike Freeman
Peyton Manning quietly departed the interview room a short time after the crusted arrogance and determined cockiness was knocked off the faces of the Colts with a backhanded slap from the Saints. Manning then began a short walk to the team buses.
He was flanked by what appeared to be two plain-clothed security types, one uniformed officer, a team PR person and two journalists. Manning's gaze was low and he didn't see New Orleans safety Darren Sharper, who was entering the interview tent as Manning was leaving. The two basically bumped into one another and then awkwardly hugged.
"You guys played great," Manning told Sharper.
"Good luck to you," Sharper said.
Special Section: Super Bowl XLIV
Sharper's words were thick with sympathy and entering this game most people would've thought Manning would be the one offering condolences to the Saints, not vice versa.
But not this night, not this Super Bowl. The Colts and their supporters were a cluster of arrogance and the team succumbed to the weight of its own extreme confidence.
The Colts won't say this and Colts apologists won't admit it, but I'm convinced the Colts believed their own pregame hype; that they were gifted this game. The arrogance started at the top of the organization with president Bill Polian blowing off media day and former coach Tony Dungy saying the Colts would win easily and all of that cocky chatter and behavior filtered all the way down to the bottom.
"I can't say I saw this coming," center Jeff Saturday said of the 31-17 loss.
Then he later added: "We had the team to beat."
See what I mean. They had the team to beat? How?
Manning was caught up in such lunacy as well. Manning heard and believed too much of the talk that he would be anointed the greatest quarterback of all time if he won. At least, that's what I believe.
That talk officially ended with Super Bowl XLIV. Manning's career took a dramatic step backward with his horrible, 74-yard pick-six that changed the course of the Super Bowl and altered the trajectory of his legacy.
The greatest of all time? Nope. Not even close now. The GOAT doesn't throw that kind of awful interception. Joe Montana didn't throw those in the Super Bowl. Has Tom Brady?
Manning has one ring and a bushel of stats and records. He deserves accolades and praise, but the GOAT talk must stop now.
Manning and the Colts are the Atlanta Braves. The Colts, under Manning, have won at least 12 games seven years in a row. Yet all Manning has to show for it is one title. He's now 9-9 in the playoffs, which is about as far away from GOAT material as the Middle East is from the Colts' practice facility.
Manning has the same number of rings as Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer and Brett Favre. Manning is better than Hostetler and Dilfer (of course), but he made a mistake not even Favre has committed in a Super Bowl.
Manning was respectful of the Saints and praised the team. "We're sorry to our fans," Manning said. "I'm sorry to our fans."
Then Manning said this when asked what the Saints defense did to slow the Indianapolis defense down.
"Their offense staying on the field kept us off the field," Manning said.
It was a subtle shot at the Indianapolis defense. Subtle throwage under the busage, to me. In reality Manning did at times look greatly confused.
Defensive lineman Will Smith said the Colts were anxious right from the very beginning of the game.
"They actually looked nervous to me," he said.
When did they start looking nervous?
"From the coin toss they were nervous," Smith said.
Not sure if that makes sense since Indianapolis jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but there's definitely some accuracy in that as the game went on Manning and that offense tightened up considerably. They were in a dogfight. The Saints knew it, Manning didn't.
"We knew Manning could get rattled just like any other quarterback," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "We could put some hits on him and make him nervous."
"We hit him a lot," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "Maybe more than he's been hit before."
Manning's body took a hit.
But his GOAT status took an even bigger one.
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