Despite not playing, Peyton steals Super Bowl spotlight

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The way the first full day at the media center at the JW Marriott went, you’d think the Indianapolis Colts were vying for the Lombardi Trophy.

One of the most talked about players? Not Tom Brady or Eli Manning, the two quarterbacks starting in the game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Instead it was a quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap all year that was getting all the attention from the thousands of print, radio, television and web reporters from the U.S. and abroad assembled to cover this year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Well, maybe not all the attention, but certainly a disproportionate share for a guy who has missed the entire season with a neck injury.

First, Colts owner Jim Irsay was bombarded at a press conference early Monday afternoon that was set up to spotlight the host city, its mayor, governor and local organizers. Irsay so tired of the questions he asked the hundreds of reporters present—many of them from Indiana—to instead ask Gov. Mitch Daniels about a possible presidential run. That drew a good round of laughter from the crowd and a wry, if not a bit weary, smile from Daniels.

But Irsay was in less of a joking mood when a herd of national and local reporters chased him down the hall at the JW Marriott and began asking him about the future of his team and of No. 18.

After patiently answering questions, Irsay said he would not discuss Peyton’s future this week, instead choosing to focus on Indianapolis, which is hosting its first Super Bowl, and hoping to impress the NFL enough to earn a second.

But Irsay wasn’t the only one to field questions about Peyton Manning. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about No. 18, as was his starting quarterback Tom Brady.

You could almost hear an audible gasp and the eye rolls as a reporter from the NFL Network asked the first question about Peyton to the man known for skulking the sidelines wearing a hoody and a scowl. I suppose Belichick had it coming. After all, he brought up the specter of Peyton at his first press conference in Indianapolis Sunday night.

And I suppose predictably, Eli Manning, Peyton’s brother and the only Manning family member actually playing in the game, was asked about big brother. If Eli dodges tacklers Sunday as artfully as he dodged answering questions about Peyton’s future, the N.Y. Giants should be just fine.

The fascination with Peyton Manning goes far beyond the media and the borders of the state where he’s played his entire professional career. It appears that just about everyone with a passing interest in professional football wants to know about the future of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Three neck surgeries in less than two years have made his future anything but certain.

Though No. 18 hasn’t graced the field for the Colts this year, he certainly hasn’t faded from the public consciousness, which is pretty unusual in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional sports.

A Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily survey released this week illustrates the amazing staying power of Peyton Manning.

Peyton still ranks No. 3—behind only Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Brady as the NFL’s most marketable players, according to a broad sampling of sports business executives, analysts and media personalities.

If you’ve seen the recently released TV commercial where Peyton plays the part of an NFL official you know that his neck injury hasn’t hurt his comedic delivery. He’s still got it.

Eli, who’s having an all-pro season, is No. 7 on that list. The top five is rounded out by Drew Brees at No. 4 and Tim Tebow at No. 5. Troy Polamalu is at No. 6 and Cam Newton is No. 8. Those are some pretty big names for a guy who hasn’t played in a year to outrank.

What is Peyton’s future with the Colts? That’s anybody’s guess.

Where’s Peyton’s place in the world of professional football?

Clearly, his image, if not the man himself, is still on top of his world and at the epicenter of marketability.

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