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NFL: Manning takes good care of his offensive linemen

Mystery solved. Turns out, there's a reason Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning gets sacked less than any other starter in the league.

A lot of reasons, actually.

"Watches. Suits, custom suits. Stereo systems. Sony Blu-ray players before they even got on the market," Colts left guard Ryan Lilja said Thursday, at the final day of player availability before Indianapolis and New Orleans meet Sunday in the Super Bowl. "He takes care of his guys."

So in turn, "his guys" — the Indianapolis offensive line — take care of the four-time NFL MVP.

It is one of the unwritten rules of football, pretty much from high school all the way to the pros, that the quarterback tries to find some way to keep his blockers happy. Methods can range from simply carrying their practice gear every now and again, to picking up the tab on chicken wing night, to the time-honored NFL traditions (remember Dan Marino's ads for Isotoner gloves?) of more lavish gifts.

Clearly, bribes work.

Manning was sacked 10 times during the regular season, by far the fewest among starters who played all 16 games. Next fewest? New England's Tom Brady, 16 times.

"There's a mutual respect there with him and us," Lilja said. "We know how good he is and how good he can be and how good he will be, so you want to keep the guy clean and let him do his thing. You don't want to be the guy who lets him get hit or sacked, because of who he is and what he's done and how he treats us. We want to see him break as many league records as he can."

The Colts say Manning will soon have a new contract that makes him the NFL's highest-paid player, which made Lilja's ears perk up upon receipt of that news.

Manning's loaded already.

But if he gets richer, could the gifts get even better?

"It's a little presumptuous to expect him to give you gifts every year," Lilja said. "But we do."

SUPER PREDICTION: If video games can be believed, here's what the news will be when the Super Bowl is finished: "David Thomas caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees late in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl by beating the Indianapolis Colts 35-31 on Sunday night."

So sayeth "Madden NFL 10," anyway.

The popular Electronic Arts game, which has accurately predicted the Super Bowl champion in five of the last six years, says Brees will be the MVP.

And EA adds that it correctly simulated the outcomes of the AFC and NFC championship games, within three points.

FREENEY TO TEST ANKLE: Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is hoping to test his sore right ankle for the first time during Friday's Super Bowl practice.

Freeney tore a ligament in the ankle late in the 30-17 victory by Indianapolis over the Jets in the AFC title game. He is questionable for Sunday's NFL title game against the New Orleans Saints.

The All-Pro has been getting treatment and said the ankle is gradually improving.

LAST WORD: Giants quarterback Eli Manning, whose brother Peyton will lead the Colts into Sunday's Super Bowl: "It was in Miami three years ago the Colts won, and the next year we won the Super Bowl. So I hope it all goes that way again."