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Super Bowl quarterbacks to stage aerial display

Think of this one as a sword fight on a tightrope without a safety net. Throw in some fireworks and some laser beams. Jack up the music, and release the tigers.

Yeah, this Super Bowl is going to be a lot like that.

This one is going to be a classic. This one is going to be fun. This one is going to be 42-40. We're still a week away from it, but from a distance, this Super Bowl looks as if it's going to be super. Gentlemen, start your TiVos.

When you think about it, how can this Super Bowl be anything but terrific? On one hand, you have Peyton Manning and the Vandellas. And on the other, you have Drew Brees and the Pips. In other words, someone is going to need backup batteries for the scoreboard.

I know, I know. For a very long time, the Super Bowl went out of its way to prove that it could make a perfectly dreadful game even out of the most attractive matchup. Once, the Super Bowl gave us Joe Montana against John Elway, and that ended up 55-10. Once, the Super Bowl gave us Montana against Dan Marino, and the 49ers won by 22. Twice it gave us Troy Aikman vs. Jim Kelly, and the Cowboys won the two games by a total of 52 points. As Super Bowls go, it was like watching someone make sausage.

Lately, however, things have been different. Over the past decade, the Super Bowl has become great theater. You have Ben Roethlisberger's comeback last year, and you have the Giants knocking off the unbeaten Patriots the year before. You have a game-saving tackle by the Rams against the Titans, and you have the Patriots winning three games by three points.

Judging by the previews, this year's game may be better than all of them.

Yes, that's a high expectation, but that's how good these two quarterbacks are. Then there is this: Not only are Manning and Brees terrific, but I'm not sure either defense can do anything about them.

Ask yourself: How does a team take an opposing quarterback out of the game? Usually by playing great defense and eating clock with a strong running game. Not this time. The Colts can't run, and the Saints can't defend. Neither quarterback takes a lot of sacks. Neither throws a lot of interceptions.

So get ready for a shootout. Brees threw 30 passes or more in his last six games (in all, he threw 30 or more 13 times this year). Manning threw 30 times or more 15 times. In back-to-back games this year against San Francisco and Houston, Manning threw 98 times.

Tell me: Against the Saints, who have the 26th-ranked passing defense, how many times do you think Manning will throw? Particularly when you consider the Colts rushed for fewer yards than any team this year. The Saints have a better running game, but if Manning is successful when he throws, Brees will have to measure up.

In a way, Brees has been doing that for years. Manning has all the records and most of the TV commercials, but in the four years since Brees came to the Saints, their numbers aren't that different. For instance, over the last four years, Manning and Brees have thrown for 122 touchdowns.

This year the two of them combined for 8,702 yards. That's the second most by two quarterbacks going into the Super Bowl. (Montana and Marino combined for 12 more yards).

Those are just numbers, though. The bottom line on this Super Bowl is simple. Neither the Colts nor the Saints have a prayer of winning unless their quarterback plays well. Neither can win with a 143-yard performance, the way Joe Theismann once did with the Redskins.

So what should you expect? Expect 80 passes. Expect 700 yards passing. Expect a cornerback to burst into flames.

Perhaps that's why the over-under in this game is 561/2, higher than any Super Bowl number in history. The bookies seem to be in love with the quarterbacks, too. In the Super Bowl, that's often the way it works. There is a reason 14 Super Bowl quarterbacks have made the Hall of Fame. Manning seems to have sufficient numbers to get in. If Brees wins this game, he's going to strengthen his argument.

So what should you expect? The greatest air show this side of the Blue Angels, that's what.

Here's a hint: In 2004, New England's Tom Brady and Carolina's Jake Delhomme locked up in probably the best duel the Super Bowl has seen. By the time the day ended, they had combined for 71 passes, 677 yards and six touchdowns. It was only the second time both quarterbacks in a game had gone over 300 yards (the first two were Montana and Marino), and it ended with Brady driving his team for a winning field goal in a three-point game.

More than Favre vs. Elway, than Warner vs. Roethlisberger, than Montana vs. Esiason, that's the game that has set the standard for quarterbacks.

This one might be better.

Gary Shelton can be reached at shelton@sptimes.com.

Super Bowl quarterbacks to stage aerial display 01/30/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 12:30pm]

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