And then he threw it all away.
Blocked onto his butt, Manning could only watch as Tracy Porter returned an interception for a clinching, 74-yard touchdown in the final minutes Sunday, giving the New Orleans Saints 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
"It's certainly disappointing," Manning said. "Very disappointed. Disappointed."
It was a startling end to a Super Bowl that seemed destined to wind up in Manning's strong right hand. It was the lone turnover of a back-and-forth thriller.
And as Porter raced by him, Manning was sitting on the grass after brawny Saints defensive end Will Smith knocked him down as he tried to make a tackle. Manning took a glance over his shoulder to watch Porter's romp to the end zone, unbuckled his chin strap, stood up and simply walked toward the bench.
"We probably never got into a great rhythm," Manning said. "We were certainly worse in lapses in our final possession."
All week, this was the story line in Miami: Could Manning, a New Orleans boy through and through, deny the Saints in a game they desperately wanted to win for their city?
It turned out that he helped his hometown team win its first Super Bowl -- only not in the way he imagined.
Dad Archie Manning, the longtime Saints quarterback, was caught smack in the middle.
"I was pulling for the Colts," he said. "I'm not quite over that, but I'm happy for New Orleans.
"I don't know if going to celebrate or not. Maybe later, when the city does, but I'm not in a celebrating mood. Glad to see everybody else in New Orleans celebrate. That's enough for me now."
Added Archie: "I'm proud of him. ... It just wasn't meant to be."
His son repeated the word "disappointing" at least 10 times in his postgame interview session, using it to describe everything from the Colts not having the ball much in the second quarter to the interception that decided the title.
"We played well in the first playoff game, played well two weeks ago (in the AFC Championship Game)," Manning said. "We just didn't make enough plays against the Saints.
"I understand how excited the Saints are, their families and the city of New Orleans is going to be," he added. "I'm sorry to our fans that we weren't able to get it done."
Until Porter cut in front of Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the left side, Manning seemed to be in charge. The four-time NFL MVP did his dance at the line of scrimmage, putting his teammates in position, and zipped pass completions all over the field.
The Colts set an NFL record with seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season, and surely most everyone at Sun Life Stadium believed ol' Peyton was at it again Sunday. Down 24-17, the Colts were driving toward a potential tying score until Porter sealed the Saints' victory with 3:12 left.
Manning had been MVP of the Colts' victory in the Super Bowl on the very same field three years ago, and he was a good bet to win the trophy once more. Instead, the night finished the same way his final college game at Tennessee ended -- a bruising loss to Nebraska, also on this field.
Manning left the field without seeing Brees.
"I'll certainly talk to Drew," Manning said. "There's not much consolation for the guys that didn't win. There's the stage being set up and the celebration."
Manning wound up 31-of-45 passing for 333 yards and one touchdown. He finished one short of the Super Bowl record for completions set by Tom Brady and tied by Brees, though the one pass Manning threw to the Saints will be the one that fans remember, and it'll be the pick that's shown on highlight films for years.
"It's kind of a play we've run a lot," Manning said. "Porter made a heck of play."
Said Porter: "It was great film study. The coaches did a great job of preparing us for that route."
As he walked from the sideline to the huddle with his head down to start the fourth quarter, Manning suddenly found himself surrounded by three dozen Colts cheerleaders rushing off the field after their routine. He stopped, let them pass and kept on his way.
Early in the quarter, Manning made one of his few bad throws, floating a deep ball that fell incomplete near the goal line. Manning threw down a towel when he got to the bench.
Moments later, the giant video board showed his younger brother, Eli, in the crowd. Eli was the MVP of the Super Bowl two years ago as QB of the New York Giants, but there was no celebrating this time.
Most celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, Gloria Estefan and Scottie Pippen smiled when they showed up on the board. Not Eli. He merely looked straight ahead, a blank stare.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press