- Sam Alipour
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KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- As a warm rain pecked at their skulls following Wednesday's practice, most AFC Pro Bowlers headed for cover. The Colts are not most AFC Pro Bowlers.
"The drizzle didn't hurt us at the Super Bowl, so I don't mind it here," says WR Reggie Wayne. "Everybody out here is congratulating us, so I guess it must be time to let it soak in. We're the champs and ain't nothing going to take that away from us. Not even a little drizzle."
Wayne is right. The five players representing the Super Bowl champs in Honolulu have seen the rain, won The Game, and though they don't yet have the finger-bling to prove it, their perma-grins say it all.
For the Colts, the fun began immediately after the win at a party held at the team hotel and continued into Tuesday's parade in Indianapolis. To a man, the champs choose the parade as the highlight of their whirlwind celebration.
"It was unlike anything I've been a part of," center Jeff Saturday said. "Driving through the streets of Indy with temperatures at 20 below, but with 50,000 people cheering, I think we were all humbled to be part of that. Our fans played a big role in this. They've supported us and suffered for a while now, so they deserve it. As much as anyone."
Still, the parade was missing one key ingredient. "Man, there was no beer to keep us warm," Saturday said. "Instead, they put music on. I guess getting our groove on was supposed to do the trick."
With all of the fun, these Colts didn't have much time for reflection. That opportunity would finally come during their flight into Honolulu aboard what Manning calls "Air Irsay," Colts owner Jim Irsay's jet.
"Marvin [Harrison], Reggie, Tarik [Glenn], Jeff and I got to watch the game for the first time on our flight out here," says Manning. "Sitting next to Reggie as he's watching his touchdown catch, seeing the interception by Kelvin Hayden -- who couldn't be any closer to being out of bounds -- that was special. We got to relive it together."
"From the celebrations Sunday night into the wee hours of the Monday morning, to the parade, we haven't had much time for sleep," Manning continues. "But this time that's a good thing."
That's because this time, the Colts' stars didn't travel to Hawaii on the heels of yet another disappointing playoff loss. For two of the past three seasons, those defeats were administered by Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots, whose loss to the Colts during the AFC Championship Game insured that Belichick would captain this year's AFC Pro Bowl team. For Manning, it's a welcome change.
"I've always said it would be fun to finally play in this game and be coached by somebody you beat in the AFC championship," he said, chuckling. "It'd be nice to look at them and know that a few weeks ago, we were the ones who beat you."
Despite the playful ribbing, Belichick earned Manning's respect long ago and the two continue to forge a friendship underfire. On the Friday before the Super Bowl, the three-time championship-winning coach even called Manning to wish him well.
"From the celebrations Sunday night into the wee hours of the Monday morning, to the parade, we haven't had much time for sleep. But this time that's a good thing."
-- Peyton Manning
"He called when we were in a meeting, but he left me a sincere voicemail wishing me luck," Manning said. "You receive a lot of calls or e-mails from friends and opponents wishing you luck, but when another head coach from a team we've had a history with does it, you truly appreciate it."
Still, amidst the celebration, these Colts players are keenly aware that they might have to begin their quest for a repeat with a different roster. Linebacker Cato June and RB Dominic Rhodes, who joined with Joseph Addai to form a highly effective backfield tandem, are just two examples of players who will test free agency. Rhodes, in particular, should garner much attention on the open market after rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown in Miami.
"I'm sure Addai can take the load if need be, but we'd love to see Dominic come back," Glenn said. "That one-two punch is why we were so successful this year."
"As far as I'm concerned, Dominic and Dallas Clark are the MVPs of the playoffs," Manning said. "Dominic started all 16 games, then we made the switch to Joe because he was getting hot, but it's funny because Dominic was even better coming off the bench. Joe sets them up and pounds on them, then Dominick comes in with a burst of speed and bam. He took the change in stride, and I think that's what he's most comfortable with."
Seems Manning will do anything to ensure that Rhodes will return next season -- even dissuade potential suitors.
"If anybody wants to sign him as a free agent, I tell them he's not a good starter," Manning said. "They shouldn't pay him a lot of money. He needs to stay with us."
One adjustment the Colts are happy they won't have to make is the transition to a new head coach. On Monday, Tony Dungy confirmed that he'd be returning to the Colts next season in an announcement that took Manning by surprise.
"He's a unique individual with unique priorities, so I've always thought that Tony would retire when people wouldn't expect it," Manning said "I figured he'd walk away like Tiki Barber did this year, at the top of his game. And if he did, I would have respected that."
In the meantime, the Colts have some celebrating to do -- and some hugs to field.
"I truly appreciate the support," Manning said. "But you get a little bit embarrassed, especially when somebody picks you up and grabs you.
"I don't like a lot of noise."
Or any talk of monkeys.
Though most Pro Bowlers are congratulating the Colts -- and particularly Manning -- for finally winning the big one and shaking the proverbial monkey from their backs, the Colts aren't buying.
"I think for Peyton and the rest of us, that whole monkey on your back, the legacy thing, is all outside media hype," Saturday said. "I can tell you Peyton is not a different guy now that he won the Super Bowl. He wanted to win the Super Bowl for his team, not for any legacy."
Manning agrees, and resists any suggestion of a newfound bravado. Just ask Vikings Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson. Manning's longtime friend couldn't resist teasing the Super Bowl MVP during their recent encounter at a lounge inside the players' hotel.
"Steve just looks at me and says, 'You've changed,'" Manning said. "I said, 'Steve, seriously, there's nothing more you could say to me to make me madder. I hadn't brought [the Super Bowl] up one time.' People are bringing it up to me, and I'm giving them my Elvis Presley: 'Thank you very much, thank you very much.'
"My whole goal this week is to prove to him that I'm very much the same guy."
As the celebration continues in Honolulu, these Colts can only hope that next year's roster -- and the end result -- will be equally unchanged.
Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on Page 2. You can reach him at Sam.Alipour@gmail.com.
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