On the eve of Super Bowl XLIV Media Day, let's take a quick look at all of the storylines that are likely to surface down in Miami; all 44 of them, to be exact.
1. If the Jets couldn't stop Peyton Manning, how can the Saints?: The Jets had the best pass defense in the NFL in 2009. It wasn't even close. They allowed about 500 less passing yards than the second-best defense, and only coughed up eight touchdown passes (no one else allowed less than 14). But in the AFC championship, Manning torched the Jets for 377 yards and three touchdowns. New Orleans relied on five takeaways to beat the visiting Vikings in the NFC title game. No one in the NFL lost fewer fumbles than the Colts during the regular season, so the Saints need to limit the yardage they cough up this time around.
2. Will the game MVP actually earn the award?: Both Manning brothers have a Super Bowl MVP and neither deserved it. Peyton won on the strength of his running game and Eli won on the strength of the Giants' defense suffocating a high-octane New England offense. This was nothing new, though. There are tons of Super Bowl MVPs who were definitely not the most valuable player in the game. What about Desmond Howard over Reggie White and Brett Favre? Expect Manning or Drew Brees to take the award home, depending upon whichever team wins. But it'll be more interesting to see whether or not the winning QB actually deserves his hardware.
3. The Archie Bowl: Archie Manning appeared in 134 games over the course of 11 years for the New Orleans Saints. His second eldest son has been the face of the Indianapolis Colts for 12. The Manning family is revered in the New Orleans area. The Manning Passing Academy (a camp for young footballers) is held in Louisiana. Peyton and his brothers were an integral part in Hurricane Katrina relief back in 2005.
4. Zebra impact?: The officials are always a hot-button issue for the masses after big games, regardless of how the game was called. I'll go out on a limb right now and predict there's "controversy" surrounding at least one call (and probably several more) in the aftermath of the game. It doesn't matter if the call was correct, which team won or what the final score was. There will be some conspiracy theorists screaming about how the league fixes games and that they'll never watch again.
5. Bounty Bowl II?: The Saints haven't been shy when reflecting on their treatment of quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC championship. Several fines were dished out to the defensive players and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams even made comments that insinuated the game plan was to knock Favre from the game. Obviously, you can expect them to employ similar strategies against Manning. Of course, Manning rarely takes a big hit. He seems to always sniff out the sacks before they happen and go down on his own. Thus, it will be a chess match within a chess match.
7. Points parade: On Jan. 29, 1995, the San Francisco 49ers -- behind Steve Young's record six touchdown passes -- beat the San Diego Chargers 49-26. No Super Bowl has ever given us more than the 75 points scored that evening. The Saints were the top offense in the NFL in terms of scoring and yardage during the regular season -- and the Colts offense may even be better. Not only is the record for total points in peril, but so is another: the most points ever scored by a losing team is 31 (the Cowboys, all the way back in Super Bowl XIII).
8. Cutting into Kurt Warner's legacy: Did you know the three most prolific passing games in terms of yardage in Super Bowl history belong to Warner? In his three appearances, Warner threw for 414, 377 and 365 yards, respectively. No one else has ever thrown for more than 357 yards in the big game. Manning and Brees aren't strangers to approaching 400 passing yards in a game, so it's possible both quarterbacks carve into Warner's exclusivity atop the passing yardage per game record.
9. "Happy to be there" versus "experience": We get it. The Colts won the Super Bowl in Miami just three years ago, and the Saints as a franchise have never been to the Super Bowl before. Brace yourself, because you are going to read tons of stories and hear tons of talk about the impact this week. Guess what? There are examples both for and against either side of the argument. There's no trend.
10. Underrated secondaries: The Saints and Colts don't have great pass defenses, but they do have several quality players in the defensive backfield. We know all about Darren Sharper, but the Saints corners -- Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer -- are underrated. The Colts generally get good safety play out of Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt, and Kelvin Hayden is a decent corner in his own right. These guys all have their work cut out against the opposing high-powered offenses, but they definitely aren't pushovers.
11. Prop mania: Do you want to wager on Joseph Addai's final rushing total being an even or odd number? How about which team wins the coin toss? Will Drew Brees throw for more yards than Dan Marino did in Super Bowl XIX? The great thing about the Super Bowl is that you can bet on anything you want to with a casino or via online action. It's actually gotten ridiculous at this point. You can wager on whether or not Reggie Bush will have more rushing yards than Lamar Odom will points and rebounds in his NBA game on the same day. Why the pairing? Odom is married to Bush's girlfriend's sister.
12. Brees' roots: Drew Brees was a record-setting quarterback at Purdue University. In fact, he was one of the most popular players in school history for myriad reasons. He won awards for academics and off-field character, in addition to rewriting the school's record books and taking the Boilermakers to their only Rose Bowl trip since 1967. Purdue is less than an hour from Indianapolis and there are thousands and thousands of avid Colts fans who also happen to love their Boilers. It will be a bittersweet feeling for them to root against their once-beloved No. 15.
13. Hargrove's redemption. Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove had a rough early life and endured 13 months in rehab before being reinstated into the NFL. The only team that gave him a chance to get back into the league was the Saints.
14. Conservative commercials?: Everyone knows it's great theater to watch the Super Bowl commercials. There are always at least a handful of hilarious gems that stand out in the crowd. This year, though, there seems to be a larger-than-usual amount of spots CBS has deemed inappropriate and rejected. Are we still feeling the backlash from Nipplegate or are the commercials being made just pushing the envelope too far?
15. Coach Caldwell: For some reason, Jim Caldwell seems to get very little respect from the masses. Maybe it's that Peyton Manning seems like he's already coaching the Colts, or that the team Caldwell took over was already prepared to make a Super Bowl run. Let's give some credit to Caldwell, though, because he didn't do everything as his mentor Tony Dungy would have. The Colts defense is much more aggressive now, due to Caldwell's shift in philosophy when he brought in a new defensive coordinator. He also did something Dungy would have never dreamed of doing when he played his entire team for a full, meaningless game (Week 15's victory in Jacksonville). He then kept Manning in for a series in the third quarter in another meaningless game the following week against the Jets. Dungy's protocol was to use the starters for a series or two once the game didn't mean anything in the standings. It probably led to too much rust and caused a few of Indianapolis' early playoff exits. Instead, Caldwell brilliantly juggled getting healthy with giving the players enough real-game reps to stay sharp. And here they are -- Caldwell has now visited one Super Bowl in one season in Indy. Dungy only went one time in 13 years as a head coach (with 11 playoff appearances). Instead, we'll hear more joking about Caldwell's understated demeanor ("Hey, can Caldwell even talk?" Ha Ha Ha Ha!) instead of giving him credit this coming week.
16. Colts (almost) never lose: In the last 26 games the Colts have legitimately tried to win, they are 25-1. Their one loss was a playoff game, on the road and in overtime.
17. If the Saints win, will New Orleans survive?: We all know that city parties better than any other place on this planet, but we have no idea how ballistic the place will go if their beloved Saints win it all. Other cities have championship "celebrations" that result in many arrests, mass destruction, fires and general drunken debauchery. If the Saints win, we may have a new standard in postgame celebratory destruction.
18. Will anyone get arrested?: Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was arrested by an undercover cop in Miami back in 1999. Both teams seem to full of good guys who wouldn't get themselves in trouble leading up to the pinnacle of their profession. However, Robinson had received an award for exemplary moral character the very day he was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. Keep those noses clean, boys!
19. Old Man Brunell: Mark Brunell will turn 40 this year. He has started 151 regular-season games and 10 playoff games in his 15 season career, but this will be his first trip to the Super Bowl. I doubt he cares that it's simply as the holder for Saints' field goals and extra points.
20. Phil Simms: It's amazing how much the general public hates broadcasters like Joe Buck, Joe Morgan, Tim McCarver and has endlessly mocked guys like John Madden and Tony Kornheiser, yet somehow doesn't seem to dislike Phil Simms near as much as it should. For me, hearing Simms' voice is akin to the proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard screeching. I can't wait until he starts (incorrectly) trying to explain the rules of the football to the almost 100 million viewers Sunday. It's gonna be awesome (please note dripping sarcasm).
21. Weather a factor?: Last time the Super Bowl was played in Miami, the Colts had to slow down their high-throttle passing attack and run over the Bears, partially because it had rained all day. The Saints are a much better running team than the Colts, but both would likely prefer to do their work through the air. There's a 30 percent chance of rain, but it's doubtful a light amount of rain affects the respective passing attacks enough to make a huge impact on the game.
22. Carrie Underwood is singing our National Anthem: Yeah, it's not really a storyline, but she's hot enough to mention. Also, a fun Super Bowl party pool is to have people guess how long the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner will last -- just make sure you have an official timer who isn't entered into the pool. My guess is Carrie won't prolong the song much more than usual, as she doesn't seem like the type to make the song about herself (like Christina Aguilera would).
23. "The Who will rock halftime": And if they don't play Baba O'Riley, I'll be really disappointed.
24. Sun Life Stadium: Um, seriously? Sun Life Stadium? This will mark the fifth time there has been a Super Bowl played in this venue and the fourth different name of said venue.
25. Third time is a charm?: Saints fullback Kyle Eckel has been on an active NFL roster for the past three seasons (he was on Miami's practice squad on 2006), each for a different team. He's played in a conference championship all three seasons and this will mark his second trip to the Super Bowl. His last two playoff visits, he watched his team lose in heartbreaking fashion (to the Giants in the Super Bowl and then to the Cardinals in the NFC championship). Will he suffer a third consecutive postseason disappointment?
26. Saints overload: I dare you count how many times Hurricane Katrina and "Who Dat" are mentioned in the pregame or actual game coverage.
27. Colts overload: How many times will the name Peyton Manning be said Sunday? Did you know the Colts already won a Super Bowl in Miami? You did? OK, well, you're about to be reminded roughly a billion times this week.
28. Too many cooks in the kitchen: How many "analysts" will CBS employ for the marathon pregame show? My program guide shows a four-hour pregame, so I'm guessing we'll see at least 20.
29. Which lesser-known playmaker will emerge?: The Saints and Colts have a group of guys really well known to the casual NFL fan. Players like Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey. Joseph Addai and Pierre Thomas are fairly well known in most circles as well. The beauty of these two teams is that they give shots to everyone on the roster. Will we find this Super Bowl's version of Timmy Smith from this collection of names? Devery Henderson, Courtney Roby, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Mike Bell, Lynell Hamilton, David Thomas, Darnell Dinkins, Tom Santi, Gijon Robinson, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Hank Baskett, Donald Brown, Chad Simpson and Mike Hart. Obviously, some have a better chance than others, but you never know with these two teams. Eight Colts and 13 Saints scored offensive touchdowns during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Saints have already seen six players hit pay dirt while the Colts have seen five total touchdowns go to four players (and Collie is the one with two scores).
30. The kickers: Matt Stover has been in the league for 19 years. He turned 42 last week. He's made 111 go-ahead kicks and 41 game-tying kicks in his career. He has a Super Bowl ring. On the flip-side, Saints 23-year-old kicker Garrett Hartley has only been an active kicker in the NFL for 13 regular-season games and two playoff games. He's only made six go-ahead field goals and two game-tying kicks. Of course, Hartley nailed the NFC championship winner and Stover has never done anything like that. Remarkably, he hasn't had the chance.
31. Indiana connection: In addition to Brees having attended college in the great state of Indiana, two members of the Saints played for the other Big Ten school in the state. Tracy Porter and Courtney Roby don't quite have the star power Brees does, but us Indiana alums don't get to cheer for many NFL players. There will be herds of Hoosier fans wanting the Colts to prevail while Porter and Roby play well.
32. The Tiger: As much as the Indiana schools love their football, the adoration pales in comparison to the rampant fandom surrounding LSU football -- which is near New Orleans. Joseph Addai was a big part of the 2005 Tigers team that fought through the Hurricane Katrina adversity to finish 11-2, winning the SEC West and the Peach Bowl in Les Miles' first season. No doubt the Saints fans who also love LSU football won't mind rooting against Addai here, but you know they don't want to see him stumble.
33. Which team will run the ball more effectively?: We know both teams can pass, but running the ball could be huge in terms of controlling the clock. The Colts had the worst running offense in the NFL during the regular season, but they can run when pressed. They actually out-ran the Jets (the NFL's No. 1 rushing team) in the AFC title game. The Saints were statistically a marginal running team, but Reggie Bush has exploded in the playoffs and Pierre Thomas is a solid back as well. The defenses better not forget about the run.
34. The Guru: Saints head coach Sean Payton is said to be an offensive mastermind. Will they try to outscore the Colts or keep Manning off the field?
35. Mudd's farewell?: Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd is one of the most respected position coaches in the NFL. He's routinely taken less ballyhooed prospects and put together a formidable offensive line in front of one of the game's great quarterbacks. He's widely expected to retire at the conclusion of this season. Going out with a Super Bowl in his last campaign would be the cherry on top to a great career.
36. Quarterbacks on defense: With all the attention Brees and Manning will receive, we may forget that each defense has a great leader in the middle. Gary Brackett of the Colts is pretty underappreciated and Jonathan Vilma of the Saints was voted this year to his second Pro Bowl.
37. What will Bobby Hebert wear?: I'm not sure how dressing in drag is paying tribute to winning the NFC championship, but Hebert thought it was appropriate. What happens if the Saints win this one? UPDATE: Some Saints fans have set me straight in the comments section. So now I do know how it paid tribute. That's actually a really cool story. Did Buddy promise to do anything crazy if the Saints the Super Bowl?
38. When will people stop talking about Tim Tebow?: The Senior Bowl was on Saturday and there is still plenty of lingering national discussion on whether or not he'll make a good professional quarterback. Right now, I couldn't care less. Neither the Colts nor the Saints need a quarterback.
39. Who will anger the P.C. Police?: With the city of New Orleans involved, someone is bound to say something this week that will sound the alarm to the politically correct apologists.
40. Undercover Boss: While there have been some amazingly bad reality TV ideas, I have to admit I'm intrigued by this one: taking a CEO down to the lowest level of blue collar work. That's awesome. It will air immediately following the Super Bowl. There is zero chance it lives up to the incredible episode of The Office that followed last season's Super Bowl, but it's still likely to entertain.
41. Ratings monster: Both championship games last week did ratings numbers that were pure insanity in this day and age of thousands of viewing choices. It's entirely possible Sunday's game is the most watched event in the history of TV. Which, really, is the biggest reason the NFL needs to do something, anything, about ...
42. The 2011 Lockout: With all the good things the NFL is doing right now, they are headed down a path of self-sabotage. It doesn't look good for the 2011 season. How much can commissioner Roger Goodell keep the focus on the game this week while getting everyone to forget about the impending disaster?
43. Brees' legacy: Since joining up with the Saints, Drew Brees has thrown for at least 4,300 yards and 26 touchdowns in each of his four seasons. He's totaled 18,298 yards and 122 touchdowns to go with a 97.3 quarterback rating. Is he heading down the path of Dan Marino (one of the greatest quarterbacks to never win "the big one") or will he thrust himself into the all-time great argument with a ring? Obviously, he's got many years left, but you never know if there will be another chance. Marino probably didn't think his trip as a 23-year-old would be his last.
44. Indy's legacy: The Manning-era Colts have been the best regular-season team for more than a decade. They are actually the greatest single-era regular-season team in the history of the NFL -- as I wrote earlier this season. At present, they are basically known as the Atlanta Braves of the NFL, though. Witness Manning's career postseason record of 9-9 compared to Tom Brady's 14-4 mark and Ben Roethlisberger's 8-2. They must win at least one more championship to be considered superior to the Patriots and the Steelers in this era. The team knows this more than anyone.