INDIANAPOLIS » It’s a good thing Peyton Manning lives in Indianapolis. Here, at least, he doesn’t have to see his hometown reveling at his expense.
Down in New Orleans, Saints paraphernalia decorates everything from corner stores to po-boy shops. Sponsors are packaging products in the team’s trademark fleur-de-lis emblem and Tracy Porter’s Super Bowl-sealing interception return has been replayed countless times on local and national television.
Manning has tried to stay out of it.
"Nothing," he replied emphatically, shaking his head when asked what Saints fans said to him during the offseason.
In fact, the Colts quarterback and four-time MVP has been so busy trying to bring the big party back to Indy he hasn’t spent much time down South.
He underwent rehab following offseason neck surgery, sneaked in a visit with his father at a golf tournament, and spent months breaking down every snap he took during the 2009 season, an annual tradition. He picked up a national award for his charitable work, back in Indiana, and after that there wasn’t a whole lot of vacationing he could or wanted to do where he grew up.
Manning did make it to Thibodaux, La., for the family’s annual passing academy, and Peyton and brother Eli cut a public service announcement for a group their mother belongs to.
For football’s first family, it’s been better this way.
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"People are celebrating, having a great time and we understand that," Archie Manning, the family patriarch and former New Orleans quarterback, told the Associated Press. "I love the people here, and I love football, but it has been an awkward situation for us. It was a great win for the Saints and a great thing for the city, but I think some people forget that we were on the other side."
Peyton, of course, grew up a Saints fan and the son of the first great Saints player. Today’s Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, has become a close friend of Manning’s older brother, Cooper, and Archie still runs in Saints circles, too. That’s how he wound up going to the same cocktail party as Saints coach Sean Payton.
Most New Orleans residents seem to understand how difficult it has been on the Mannings, and don’t dare bring up the topic.
Just occasionally, when Archie is out around town, someone who has had too much to drink or is a bit overzealous utters something he cannot brush off and he reverts to being dad.
"I had one guy say to me, ‘Tell Peyton thanks so much for throwing that interception,’ " Archie recalls. "I’ve told a few guys to do some things that are, uh, humanly impossible. Most of the people have been really good about it, but a few have been just plain rude and nasty and when I’m in some of these settings, it’s pretty doggone uncomfortable."
So uncomfortable that Archie hasn’t even told Peyton everything he’s heard in a town where the Mannings have become synonymous with the city’s image.
Archie stayed in New Orleans after retiring from the NFL and returned, unlike others, after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. As recently as last year, Archie repeatedly acknowledged that he faithfully followed three teams — Peyton’s Colts, Eli’s Giants and the Saints.
The tight bond between the Mannings and New Orleans has now seeped into a second generation of NFL players.
When Katrina struck, it was Peyton and Eli who shipped a plane full of relief supplies into the city. Peyton has used his charity, the Peyback Foundation, to help children in Indianapolis, Knoxville, Tenn., and New Orleans, and this summer, the brothers donated about 200 pairs of new Reebok shoes to eight inner-city schools.
Clearly, the Mannings still like the city and the fans, and they don’t begrudge people for celebrating. They just want fans to make it about the Saints, and not about Peyton.
"The first time he (Peyton) came back was for a golf tournament, after he had his neck operated on. He couldn’t play, but he came anyway so that people couldn’t say he didn’t come because of the Super Bowl," Archie recalls. "And sure enough, we get through the tournament and someone smarts off about it. I just said ‘Let’s move on.’ "
The solution was simple: Stay out of town for a while.
Archie and his wife, Olivia, spent more time than usual in Mississippi this summer, in part to avoid any unnecessary confrontations.
"We just kind of withdrew from that situation," Archie said. "I don’t take it personal. People are celebrating, having a good time, and most of the time, it’s been fairly normal. We just didn’t anticipate having some of these people being nasty and rude."