Littwin: Lucky Guv Hickenlooper loves the Manning effect

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ohn Hickenlooper has lucked out again. And for that he can thank — just as we all can thank — Peyton Manning.

As everyone knows by now, Super Bowl XLVIII is the Dude Bowl. It’s the Bowl Bowl. Denver vs. Seattle is pot city vs. pot city (although there’s also a player nicknamed Pot Roast somewhere in the mix, but I can’t quite explain that).

When your team goes to the Super Bowl, it’s a Chamber of Commerce dream come true. For two weeks, every other word spoken or written is Denver. The other is Seattle. It just so happens that Colorado and Washington are the only two states to legalize pot — and so the late-night guys go to work.

Bad luck? Karma?

[pullquote]It’s Colorado versus Washington, pot state against pot state. But the Manning Effect is the story that will dominate Super Bowl coverage, not pot jokes, which should end immediately after the made-for-TV bizarre moments on media day.[/pullquote]

All I know is that every time Hickenlooper hears a pot joke, he cringes. Every time he hears one, he imagines a high-tech company CEO saying he’s not bringing up his kids in Stonerville, USA, and will move his business instead to Texas — you know, where you can drink so much Lone Star that you find yourself starting to forget the third thing you were saying.

But that’s not how the run-up to the Super Bowl is going to turn out.

This is going to be the Peyton Manning Bowl. And Peyton Manning, the face of the Broncos, the face of Denver, the red-marked, helmet-squished face of the NFL, has to be the squarest celebrity in America.

Which is everything that Hickenlooper could hope for. When the Manning talk starts, the pot talk immediately ends.

Let’s face it, Manning is to hip what Richard Sherman is to polite, what Bill Belichick is to gracious. Seriously, can you think think of a squarer celebrity? I’m going to borrow a line from the late, great Jim Murray, which he once used to describe John Wooden: He’s so square he’s divisible by four.

I don’t know Manning. I’ve interviewed him in football settings a few times over the years, but I don’t know anything about him other than his public image. He’s smart. He’s relatively humble, especially for a quarterback. He’s a hard-working perfectionist who expects perfection from everyone around him. And he’s careful of his image — an off-the-charts Q-rated image that brings him endorsements with the same kind of frequency that he delivers footballs.

It’s just the image Hickenlooper and his nervous reefer-phobic pals in the Colorado business community — the ones who worry that Denver will become the new Amsterdam — want the world to see.

Hip? Manning endorses … Buicks. He does bad football puns for a pizza chain. He used to do Oreos. He’s not doing Bubba Kush.

He’s so unhip it’s funny, which Manning smartly plays for all it’s worth. If you haven’t seen it, you have to watch the football-on-the-phone rap he does with brother Eli for DirecTV. It’s hilarious. Even funnier is his classic Saturday Night Live take-off on an NFL United Way commercial. Spend time with your kids, says the tagline, so Peyton Manning doesn’t.

And then there’s his story of the comeback, the four neck surgeries, the way he was dumped by the Indianapolis Colts (it was the player who was loyal), the Elway-Manning bromance, the every-new-day-a-new-record, record-setting season, the old man doing stuff no 37 year old has ever done in an era of young quarterbacks with Hollywood looks and style, the storied work ethic from the greatest in the line of great Manning quarterbacks.

He may not be glamorous. He may not be the gunslinger like John Elway. But by himself, he has already changed the Vegas betting line on the game, which started out favoring Seattle and its defense and the weather effect of a New York February night, but has moved to favor the Broncos solely because of the Manning effect. He has become America’s quarterback.

This is a story that will dominate the Super Bowl coverage, not pot jokes, which should end immediately after the made-for-TV bizarre moments on media day. Then it’s back to Manning, who last caused a stir after the San Diego game when he was asked whether the possibility of retiring was weighing on his mind. He answered, “It’s really not. What’s weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth after this win.”

It was a scandal. I mean, has anyone ever endorsed Bud Light without being paid to, particularly in the land of Colorado craft beer? There are only two possibilities: He knows Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL (of course he does; he’s watched the Bud Bowl tapes) or he actually drinks Bud Light. You have to think the former. Come on, he was voted the most respected player in the league.

The story line for the game is that Manning is the great quarterback with a flaw — he has trouble winning the Big One. OK, he won the Big One Once, but that’s not enough apparently. You may remember Elway had a similar issue. He kept losing the Big One, until he won the Big Two In A Row in his last two seasons, and no one ever said it again. Manning gets a shot at some Elway magic now.

So, let’s pick up the storyline with Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, writing after the Broncos beat the Patriots. He told how Manning came off the field, avoiding most of the celebration, walking between his two brothers, Eli and Cooper. And how Peyton, when he posed for pictures with the two, never stood in the middle. Because you know, Gary Cooper wouldn’t.

His friend, tight end Jacob Tamme, said, “He’s probably not very hip, but he loves to win.”

He’s a throwback to a magical time when … OK, to a time that probably never actually existed. And maybe Peyton Manning, although a great quarterback, isn’t everything he’s cracked up to be. But maybe he is. Have you ever seen anyone quite like him?

After the game, brother Cooper told Plaschke, “Peyton would never say he’s having fun, but he looked happy today. I will say this, he looks happy.”

You could imagine the real celebration. With the entire state of Colorado doing some (mostly) drug-free ecstasy, the quarterback heads home to watch film. Limiting himself (with luck) to maybe one Bud Light. After all, there’s work to be done. And in this town, for the next two weeks anyway, that’s how we roll.