A very relaxed-looking group of Indianapolis Colts, led by Head Coach Tony Dungy, followed the Patriots at Friday's AFC Championship Game press conference at Boston's Hyatt Harborside Hotel. Judging from their demeanor, the Colts appear to be a very confident bunch.
Defensive linemen Chad Bratzke and Dwight Freeney preceded wide receiver Marvin Harrison and quarterback Peyton Manning after Dungy opened things up for the visitors. As Freeney fielded questions from the media, one in particular drew laughs.
"Dwight, just how short, I mean tall, are you?" Manning deadpanned into the microphone, totally catching Freeney by surprise. The second-year defensive end out of Syracuse was thought by many to be too small to play in the NFL despite a college career filled with sacks. His 11 sacks led the Colts in that category for the second year in a row and his matchup with Matt Light will be one of the keys to Sunday's game.
Freeney returned the favor several minutes later when Manning took his turn behind the podium. Several questions during the afternoon dealt with Manning's so-called "more relaxed approach" in the Colts locker room as of late. When Manning was on the hot seat, Freeney asked if he was indeed more relaxed, causing the quarterback to blush for a moment.
But the Colts contingent was deadly serious when discussing the Patriots. Bratzke and Freeney went to great lengths to explain how difficult Charlie Weis' spread attack is to defend with Tom Brady having the ability to beat a unit in a variety of ways.
Harrison and Manning were effusive in their praise of the Patriots defense, which led the NFL in fewest points allowed in 2003, surrendering just 82 in nine games at Gillette Stadium this season.
"You look at that defense and see a bunch of talented players making plays," Manning said. "Tedy Bruschi is one of the top middle linebackers in football who sometimes gets overlooked because of Ray Lewis and Zach Thomas. Ty Law is outstanding, Richard Seymour is just a man. Rodney Harrison is playing unbelievable football. I thought at the beginning of the season they were going to miss Lawyer Milloy, but Rodney Harrison is probably the only guy who could have replaced him."
"They have a bunch of tremendously smart players – guys that understand football and don't beat themselves," Dungy added. "They have some tremendous individual players like Richard Seymour, Ty Law, Ted Johnson … it's fun to watch them as defensive coach."
Dungy is attempting to become the first-ever African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl, a feat he admitted he's given some thought to during the week.
"We've progressed a lot since I came into the league in 1981," Dungy said. "At that time there weren't very many black coaches, head coaches or assistants. I think it's neat that [Philadelphia quarterback] Donovan McNabb has a chance to win the Super Bowl and that's not a driving question because of Doug Williams and Steve McNair. I just hope that five years from now we're not hearing the same question."
Dungy drew big laughs for his response to a question wondering if he's too nice to succeed as n NFL head coach. "I don't worry about what people think my shortcomings are. It's like anything else – when you win it's good and when you lose it's bad. If we win it all, then nice will be in." … Dungy reported that cornerback Nick Harper (back spasms) was the only Colt who didn't practice on Friday. Wide receiver Brandon Stokley, whose 1-month-old son, Cameron, was rushed to the hospital earlier in the week, returned to the team. Dungy said Cameron's condition had stabilized and unless there was an unforeseen turn for the worse, Stokley would be joining his teammates on Saturday's flight to New England. The coach also said he and the four players were set to fly right back to Indianapolis after the press conference to join the rest of the team for morning meetings and a walkthrough before flying back around 2 p.m. in order to remain in the same routine. "It was so nice we wanted to come back twice," Dungy joked. … Harrison got a kick out of a weather-related question wondering whether the bitter cold that has hit the Boston area would have an adverse affect on the Syracuse grad. "We practiced in the snow every day. I've played in a lot of cold game." … The city of Indianapolis and the Colts held a rally for fans at the RCA Dome on Thursday morning attended by Mayor Bart Peterson, Gov. Joe Kernan, Colts owner Jim Irsay and more than 1,000 fans. "Houston, this is Indianapolis, and we have begun our descent to your city," Peterson said according to a report in the Indy Star. … Thanks in large part to his performance this January, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning enters Sunday's AFC Championship Game with the second-highest career playoff passer rating (96.3) of all time, behind Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and former Green Bay Packer Bart Starr (104.8). In five career postseason games Manning has completed 94-of-161 attempts for 1,239 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. In two games this postseason, he's completed 44-of-56 passes for 681 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Before this postseason Manning's three-game playoff passer rating was 59.1. … Throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions has Manning knocking on the door of some elite company. Only four quarterbacks, Joe Montana (1989, 11), Steve Young (1994, 9), Troy Aikman (1992, 8) and Phil Simms (1986, 8), completed a postseason with eight or more touchdown passes and no interceptions. Each of the four led his team to a Super Bowl victory while earning Super Bowl MVP honors. … The Indy Star ran an interesting list on Friday of the things that have happened in the world since Colts punter Hunter Smith last punted in the third quarter of the team's season finale against the Texans. Since Dec. 28 at 4 p.m. EST Mike Vanderjagt punted for the Colts out of a field goal formation (Smith actually downed the ball on the Houston 3-yard line), Britney Spears got married and then had that marriage annulled, 19 college football bowl games were played, a spacecraft landed on Mars and sent pictures back to Earth and Manning passed for almost 800 yards and nine touchdowns.