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Ahead Of Super Bowl, Focus Turns To Game

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.

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