Ahead Of Super Bowl, Focus Turns To Game

The New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in the Super Bowl XLVI. Despite the hoopla surrounding the clash, the players say they remain focused on the game. Still, it's not easy for players to remain focused.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, spelled X-L-I-V, on Sunday. It's easy to lose sight of the game itself, what with all the hoopla during the two-week buildup to the main event.

So helping us to regain our focus and talk about the actual game, NPR's Mike Pesca, who's in Miami. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

SIEGEL: I know we in the media have been distracted from the game itself by stories about the shirts they sell in New Orleans and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's skills as a commercial pitchman. Do the players, do you think, get distracted by all of this down there?

PESCA: It's a little hard not to and it's preached into them that we must remain focused. And they say they're going to remain focused, but of course history has a number of examples where players have gone off the rails.

There was the Bengals Stanley Wilson who was cut from the team. He was on drugs the day before the Super Bowl. A Raider, Barret Robbins, he had psychological problems. He just disappeared. And a Falcon, Eugene Robinson, was arrested for soliciting a prostitute before his game. I think he was also awarded a man of the year award that week. And all those teams lost.

So it happens, but if you look at the teams in the game today, the Colts, it would be very rare. They've been a couple - three years ago, and they seem to be a very focused team. They seem to shrug off controversy.

Now, the Saints are a little bit of a looser group, and they all know to say that the game is the important thing, but at 3 a.m. on Monday, or maybe this was into Tuesday morning, some Saints were spotted out on the town and this became a little bit of a controversy.

To my mind that's absolutely much ado about nothing. It's six days before the game, and they're a bunch of 20-something guys out in a bar. Who cares? But that's the sort of thing. In the absence of real news, it's the sort of thing that the 3,000 members of the media have to pick over.

SIEGEL: Now, shrugging off controversy is one thing, shrugging off injury is another. And there is certainly one meaningful injury here and that's to the Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. How's he doing?

PESCA: Dwight Freeney has a Grade 3 sprain on his ankle. It means a ligament tear. And it's funny, you hear all the supposed experts saying how Dwight Freeney's tough and he could tough it out. It's not about toughness, it's about a tear to your ligament in the ankle and that could seriously limit the number of plays he plays, and when he's on the field if he could really do anything.

And if the Colts don't have Dwight Freeney, who was named to the all-decade team, he's a fantastic player, it does a couple things. It means that the Saints don't have to double team him, so they could send an extra receiver out. It means the Saints can now double team his line mates, who often thrive just due to the fact that Dwight Freeney draws so much attention.

So it really is a big injury, but oddly enough, the people who are predicting who's going to win seem not to have factored it in at all. I don't see anyone saying: I thought the Colts would win, but now with Freeney's injury, I don't. So I don't know if Freeney's going to shrug it off, but it seems like all the so-called experts have shrugged it off.

SIEGEL: Yeah, the Colts are still favored, and of course when we talk about Freeney, we're talking about what he could do to the Saints' passing game. They have a passing game, too. This could be a pretty high scoring Super Bowl given the amount of passing (unintelligible).

PESCA: It is indeed predicted to be the highest scoring Super Bowl ever by the people who decide such things in Las Vegas and that seems like a pretty reasonable assumption. The New Orleans Saints have a great head coach, Sean Payton, and a great quarterback and they put a lot of guys out there. They don't have one dominant receiver, but they can - here's a football term -spread the ball around.

And the Colts are just, I mean, Peyton Manning is just such a fantastic quarterback. We're not going to hear a lot - I don't think we're going to hear a lot about the running game. The Colts actually had the worst rushing game in the league last year, but it should be noted that the Saints were one of the worst rush defenses.

So it's kind of the inverse of the immovable object and the unstoppable force. It's the, you know, marshmallow object and the kind of weak force, but which is more marshmallowy and which is more weak? Maybe the Colts can have a little bit of a run game, but I expect most of the points to be scored through the air.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mike Pesca in Miami for the Super Bowl. Thanks for talking to us. Have fun.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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Fumbling Around? Get Super Bowl 'Fun'-Damentals

A football, clipboard, and whistle laying on the grass

hide captionNot A Football Fan? Use our talking points to help you cross the 50-yard line.

dalton00/iStockphoto.com

Let's say you know that the wine that best pairs with the bean dip served at your Super Bowl Party is sangiovese.

Let's also stipulate that you are aware that of all the songs in the catalog of the halftime act, the only Who song co-written by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey was "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere."

Your problem is, you know next to nothing about the game itself. Well, maybe you know the broad outlines. You have heard that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is adept at orchestrating late-game comebacks, and that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees led the top offense in football.

What you need is the type of Super Bowl tipsheet to strap on your forearm and consult when there's a lull in the conversation.

So here, we give you some Super Bowl conversation starters (or, depending on your consumption of sangiovese and your volume as you sing along with Who songs, potential conversation killers):

1) The Saints were established in 1967 and scored a touchdown the first time they fielded the ball. But they lost the game. Then they lost the next game. Then they lost the next five games. They won three times that first season, and didn't enjoy a winning season for the first 20 years of their existence. Their best player was a quarterback by the name of Archie Manning, who you might know as the father of ...

2) Peyton Manning, who has quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts to double-digit wins in 10 of the last 11 seasons. The Indianapolis Colts had never won more than nine games in a season in the 15 years before Peyton Manning showed up. That streak extends to 21 seasons if you include the Colts' time in Baltimore. Oh, and speaking of Baltimore ...

3) Colts owner Jim Irsay is the son of Robert Irsay, who moved the Colts out of Baltimore under cover of darkness in 1984. It ripped the heart out of that eastern city, and Jim has for years tried to live down his father's reputation as a crass and often cruel businessman. Jim, who enjoys poetry and rock 'n' roll, bought the original scroll that Jack Kerouac used to write On the Road. The Colts, by the way, are a much better team at home than on the road.

4) The Saints receive around $6 million a year from the state of Louisiana, the only team to receive a direct payment from their state. The Saints' owners have argued, plausibly so, that the lack of Fortune 500 companies located in New Orleans hurts their ability to sell luxury suites. As a result, they could generate more income in a city like San Antonio. Rumors of the Saints leaving town have long haunted the Big Easy.

5) Only six Saints players, and none of their coaches, were on the team when Hurricane Katrina hit. But Drew Brees cited his desire to help the city when he decided to sign with New Orleans as a free agent in 2005.

6) Colts center Jeff Saturday was undrafted out of college, but has been a fixture for the past decade. The four-time pro-bowl selection is so close to Manning, that as Peyton watched his brother Eli win Super Bowl XLII, he was constantly phoning Saturday from the stadium. The two almost always know what the other is thinking, and Saturday is responsible for making the Colts' entire offensive line gel.

7) Listed at 6 feet tall (in college, he was listed as 6'1") Brees is among the shortest starting quarterbacks in the game. To compensate for his inability to see over the monstrous linemen in front of him, Brees has a keen knowledge of the game, and also has exquisite "touch" — an ability to drop a pass into a narrow window better than just about any quarterback in the NFL.

8) Saints defensive back Darren Sharper, along with Manning and Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, were named to the NFL's All-Decade team a few days ago. Sharper, who played in a Super Bowl as a member of the Green Bay Packers, is sixth on the all-time list for interceptions, and this year set the single-season record for most return yards after an interception. When you think about it, Sharper was the team's fifth-leading receiver and tied for third, having caught three touchdowns off the quarterback's hands. Unfortunately, it was the other team's quarterback.

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