Super Peyton

Cutcliffe gets call from Manning after Colts won AFC title game

Late last Sunday night, Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe's cell phone rang.

On the other end was Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, his right thumb wrapped in an ice pack.

"You got 45 minutes?" Manning asked his former coach. "I've got to talk football to take my mind off this ice."

Within minutes, the two were back in the mid-1990s, talking coverages, breaking down the Colts' comeback victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

"He talked about everybody but himself," Cutcliffe said. "Finally I said, 'Hey how bout that throw on that corner route late in the game?' We got into some of the things the Patriots were doing. We just played out the whole game."

A week from today, they could be doing the same thing.

Cutcliffe will travel to Miami for his first Super Bowl, thanks to some generous friends. He can't be on the road recruiting, so it works out well.

"I've got my cell phone, so I'm going to be texting and calling prospects," he said. "Pretty good place to call them from. It's a period where we can't be on the road. It kind of worked out good for me."

What's better is that Manning is finally playing in the big game - after having won a big game to get there.

With the Colts' second half comeback, Manning finally shed the criticism that he couldn't win the big game. Afterwards, Manning downplayed that angle. So did Cutcliffe.

"People are talking about the monkey off his back," he said. "I view it a lot differently. I know how hard he's worked, and this is what he deserves. This is a big dessert for him, is the way I look at it."

Still, Cutcliffe is sure that Manning heard those who bemoaned the fact that Manning couldn't beat Florida while at Tennessee or the Patriots until this season.

"He heard it. It's like any of us in these positions. You hear it. You're aware it's there. You're not going to overreact to criticism and not going to overreact to the pressure that people try to apply to your position," he said. "But people needn't think you don't hear it."

Cutcliffe hopes the full-scale media blitz this week reveals what he already knows about his former star quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up: That what you see is what you get.

"People have always thought Peyton's just too good to be true. I don't think people believe it," he said. "He has integrity like you think he has integrity. He prepares, he's unselfish, he's tough. They just don't think anybody could be that way. Maybe with this Super Bowl, they're going to find out this guy really is like everybody says he is."

Manning isn't the only familiar face Cutcliffe will see in Miami.

Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith was a UT assistant during the 1993 and 1994 seasons. Cutcliffe also coached Bears offensive lineman Terrence Metcalf at Ole Miss. He has plenty of kind words about both, but there's no question who he'll be rooting for.

"It'd be hard to pick a winner," he said. "I can tell you easily I'm pulling hard for the Colts. I've got interests in the Bears, but I'm pulling for the Colts."

Cutcliffe got his first visual confirmation that Manning was special the summer before Manning's freshman year.

Walking into the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, Cutcliffe saw Manning working out. What he saw was unlike anything he'd seen in a player that young.

"I'd never seen a guy working with the tempo he was working with and understood drops, getting the ball out of his hands, getting reps," Cutcliffe said. "I had to stop for a second and just grin at what I was seeing."

Cutcliffe hopes to see Manning holding the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night. The 52-year-old coach says he won't attend many functions at the Super Bowl - "I may go to a Gatorade party," he quipped. "That's more along my lines." - instead hoping for a bigger celebration.

"The party I want to go to is the one when the clock ticks zero and it's a Colts win," Cutcliffe said. "That's the one I'm looking forward to."

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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