— There are certain things about a Super Bowl that are inevitable: A long halftime show. Funny TV commercials. A confetti blizzard during the post-game celebration. And new stars born.
Over the course of three-plus hours Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIV, the Colts and Saints will produce new celebrities for the NFL stage. It could be a nobody who makes a forever play (David Tyree, anyone?) or an underrated player who steps to the forefront in crunch time (see Santonio Holmes).
But it will happen, count on it. Who are the game’s next stars? Well, they might come from this list:
Colts DE Robert Mathis. With bookend pass rusher Dwight Freeney likely to be limited by a severe ankle injury, the underrated Mathis will have a chance to emerge from his teammate’s shadow. Mathis is undersized, but his explosive first step makes him a threat on the edge. Watch out, Drew Brees, Mathis will be coming. Quickly.
Saints CB Jabari Greer. Former cornerback-turned-analyst Deion Sanders says the average fan couldn’t name one cornerback in the game. He’s right, there are no household names, but Greer is the most likely to emerge from anonymity. One scouting service rated Greer as the second-best corner in the league, statistically, behind the Jets’ Darrelle Revis. He allowed only 4.7 yards-per-attempt on pass plays in which he was targeted. Peyton Manning will be throwing a lot, so Greer will have plenty of chances to make a name for himself.
Colts RB Donald Brown. He’s not their No. 1 back — Joseph Addai is — but the rookie from UConn has been more effective than Addai lately, especially when the Colts use their trademark “stretch” running play. If the Saints over-pursue on defense, Brown has the speed to make them pay on cut-back runs to the backside. True, the Colts aren’t a running team, but remember Super Bowl XLI? Manning relied on his ground game, resulting in a 190-yard rushing day against the Bears. Manning will do whatever it takes to win.
Saints WR Robert Meachem. He looked like a first-round bust in his first two seasons (only 12 receptions), but this speedster has turned it up a few notches, especially in the second half of the season. He’s overshadowed by Marques Colston, but Meachem is a serious vertical threat who could rip the Colts’ secondary if Brees gets enough time to throw.
Colts WR Pierre Garcon. Marvin, who? The Colts figured to have a void at receiver without future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, who was released last offseason, but Garcon has emerged as a terrific complement to Reggie Wayne. With defenses rolling their coverages to Wayne, Garcon is seeing a lot of man-to-man coverage. This second-year receiver has been on a postseason tear, with enough speed to cause problems for the Saints. Garcon is the pride of Haiti, and that devastated country could use a new hero.
Saints LB Jonathan Vilma. He will be one of the fastest linebackers on the field — and that’s saying something, considering the defensive speed for both teams. Vilma has the ability to drop quickly into pass coverage, an important asset against a Manning-orchestrated offense. Manning likes to throw crossing routes, but he’d better be careful with Vilma patrolling the short and intermediate zones in the middle of the field. Vilma also is the “quarterback” of the Saints’ defense, which means he’ll be engaged in the all-important chess match with Manning. Good luck with that.
Colts LB Clint Session. After starting his career as a strong-side ‘backer, he has switched to the weak side, where his athleticism is put to better use. He can make plays in space, and there’s a good chance he will draw running back Reggie Bush on certain pass plays. You know Brees will try to feed the ball to Bush, a big factor in the postseason, so Session will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.
Saints RB Pierre Thomas. Contrary to popular belief, the Saints don’t throw the ball on every down. Matter of fact, they’ve become somewhat balanced on offense, thanks in part to Thomas, who averaged an impressive 5.4 yards per rush for the season. If the Saints decide to pound the ball at the Colts’ undersized front seven, it could be a high-volume day for Thomas, who could overshadow his more publicized teammates.
Never say never. Not in a Super Bowl.