DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Peyton Manning started the Pro Bowl for the AFC fresh off leading the Colts to a win in the Super Bowl.
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Peyton Manning was relishing the moment in an AFC locker room still abuzz with its dramatic 31-28 win over the NFC in Saturday's just-completed Pro Bowl.
Three weeks ago, Manning led his Indianapolis Colts on a career-defining drive against the rival New England Patriots. The resulting 38-34 win in the AFC championship game catapulted the Colts into the Super Bowl -- a matchup they won handily over the Chicago Bears.
Manning arrived at the Ihilani Resort on Wednesday, Colts entourage in tow, looking like Elvis himself with a helmet. At the Super Bowl, the closest you could have come to Manning in the winning locker room was the front door. On this Saturday evening, only a handful of reporters stopped by to pay a visit.
The man from Tennessee was packing up his gear for the final time. Six days back, he won his first Super Bowl, a decade in the making, a reality that guaranteed Manning a locker in the Hall of Fame.
His bag stuffed with autographed footballs, helmets, jerseys -- you name it, it was in there -- the 6-foot-5 star of field and screen needed a little extra time to zip it closed. No way was that bag going to pass the 50-pound test at the airport.
"It all feels great, what can I say," Manning said in that easy Southern style of his. "To come here to Hawaii as Super Bowl champs, it means a lot. Everybody's coming up to congratulate you, all the guys, you can't really explain that with words."
At that moment, AFC head coach Bill Belichick leaned in to whisper something meant only for Manning. The quarterback smiled, shook his nemesis' hand and acknowledged Belichick with a nod and a simple, "Thanks, Coach."
The late Richard Pryor once told a joke about this bad German Shepherd that lived next door. Seems Pryor had these two monkeys that got out of their cage and eventually died. The German Shepherd comes over to see why Pryor is crying. "The monkeys is dead?" he asks. "Shoot, and I was going to eat them, too."
"Peyton deserves everything that's coming his way. he's worked hard, he played well in the big moments. winning the super bowl is what every guy in this room wants to accomplish more than anything else."
Patriots coach who led the AFC to a Pro Bowl win Saturday
As he walked off, the German Shepherd turns around and says, "Hope you know, I'm going to be chasing after you again tomorrow."
Belichick was close to writing a little more history himself, four Super Bowls in six seasons, when Manning stepped in to steal the playbook. Now, it's Manning's turn to pen a chapter or two. One Super Bowl is uplifting, but back-to-back is the kind of thing replays are made of for ESPN Classic.
"It's been a tough month," Manning said. "Lots of pressure and lots of fun. I wouldn't trade a moment of it with anybody."
Now, it's time for a little R and R, hang out with the family, play some golf. Manning's next stop is New York, where he will be on "The Late Show with David Letterman" for the third time tomorrow night. The most recognizable name in the game goes face to face for 6 minutes with a show-biz legend. Not a bad gig if you can get it.
"Peyton deserves everything that's coming his way," Belichick said. "He's worked hard, he played well in the big moments. Winning the Super Bowl is what every guy in this room wants to accomplish more than anything else."
As Peyton picked up his overstuffed potato of a bag and hoisted the strap across his left shoulder, several players came by to offer a final handshake and words of congratulations. Just one locker down, Tennessee rookie Vince Young took note of the respect being paid Peyton. It was hard not to.
"He's the man right now," Young said, admiration in his voice. "He's the man."
That he is.
And as he walked out into the night, you understood that this is what the Pro Bowl is really all about for the league's very best. Being wined and dined, meeting all the beautiful people, that's good and all. But these guys began their careers on fields filled with familiar hopes and dreams of playing in the NFL. Only a few survived to be in this locker room and fewer still won Super Bowl XLI.
Manning is simply the best of them all. The quarterback for the Super Bowl champs. The starter in a Saturday afternoon game at the company picnic. It's good to be king. Just ask Elvis the next time you see him. He'll be glad to tell you.