The Journey to Super Bowl XLIV: Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees

Zack NallyCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 31:  Drew Brees (L) of the New Orleans Saints and Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts walk on the field during 2010 AFC-NFC Pro Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 31, 2010 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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For Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, the road to the Super Bowl has been long and laden with obstacles.

For Drew Brees, his career in San Diego ended with a bittersweet farewell. It was there he began his career and when his contract ended, his performance as a Charger wasn't enough to warrant the contract he wanted out of the front office. 

Miami courted the possibility of signing him but the Saints eventually emerged as the highest bidder and, despite question marks concerning a new coach and a city in shambles, Brees signed the biggest contract of his career, $60 million over six years, and quietly donned the black and gold. 

When he arrived in New Orleans, he found a city whose pride had washed away with their homes and belongings. No longer was Bourbon Street the center of a vibrant culture. No longer was the Superdome a pinnacle of the greatness of football.

With nearly half the population spread out over the surrounding states and doubts that the Saints would stay in New Orleans, Drew Brees and company gritted their teeth and began the journey that would make them one of the few consistencies residents in the Big Easy could depend upon.  

Reconstruction ensued, however, and the Saints organization maintained that football would remain in Louisiana. Both preseason games were scheduled outside the city but on September 19th, owner Tom Benson announced that, for the first time in franchise history, all home games had been sold out, with season tickets. 

The team returned the investment with a rousing win in their first home game over division rival and the then-undefeated Atlanta Falcons. The Saints continued on to finish the season with a 10-6 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship against Chicago. Unfortunately, the Saints couldn't squeak by the Bears and their season ended, but now without reviving the faith of their beloved city.

Now, for the first time ever, New Orleans is representing the NFC in their biggest game ever. The roster is chock full of talent and head coach Sean Payton is looking more and more like one of the greatest football minds in the business. 

The Colts come into this weekend without the hype of a city rebuilt but the story behind Peyton Manning is not without its own inspiration. 

The son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and the brother of New York Giants' Eli Manning, football runs deep in the veins of Indianapolis' gunslinger. What most people don't know, though, is there is another Manning brother, one who is considered by the family to be the best athlete of the three sons. 

Cooper "the Duke" Manning is the first born son of Archie and Olivia Manning and served as the role model for his brothers growing up. In high school, he played a little quarterback but, when he couldn't surpass third string, he committed to specializing as a wide receiver.

As a senior at Isidore Newman High School, Cooper made the all-state team and caught 76 passes for 1,250 yards from the quarterback, his little brother Peyton. He graduated the team's most valuable player and looked ready to make his debut at Ole Miss, his father's Alma Mater. 

Then, tragedy struck. Cooper began to notice the fingers on his right hand going numb. When the diagnosis came back, the news was devastating. Cooper had spinal stenosis, a debilitating disease that resulted in abnormal pressure on his spine, resulting in a weakened back, so much to the point where he couldn't walk for long periods of time.

His surgery left him virtually unable to move, but that didn't stop the oldest Manning from remaining supportive of his brothers. He was in attendance at his little brothers' Super Bowls with a smile on his face and words of encouragement. Both Peyton and Eli have enormous respect for their brother and still hold his athletic ability as a young man in the highest regard. 

It's becoming a family tradition now that one of the Manning brothers be a part of Super Bowl weekend but Cooper holds no regrets that he will never be one of them. In fact, his attitude towards the whole ordeal is inspiring, to say the least. 

"When they took football away from me, I never took it out on the game", Manning was quoted. "I really never had any bitterness. I just said, this is the hand I'm dealt and I'm going to play it. I don't know if I have it down pat yet, but I'm having fun trying."

Now, Cooper flourishes as a family man, a proud husband and father of three beautiful children. He also serves as part owner of an energy firm that deals in oil and gas stocks. Needless to say, he is a thriving member of the Manning family and is equally proud of his two brothers' success. 

Peyton Manning will now enter the biggest game of the year for his second time under rookie head coach Jim Caldwell, armed with the strength of his family's legacy and the indomitable spirit of his older brother.

Drew Brees comes in as the ambassador of a city revived, shouldering the burden for inspiration at its very best. 

A victory for either team will be a well-noted notch in the belt of the NFL's legacy. Who Dat nation and fans of the blue-and-white will watch in suspense as two of the greatest quarterbacks today air it out under the bright lights of SunLife Stadium in Miami. 

No matter who comes out on top, it's assured that Sunday will hold an unprecedented amount of suspense and quality football. Here's to the greatest game in the world...