Thursday Night Football

Peyton Manning grew up in New Orleans, the favorite son in a city where his father, Archie, was considered royalty.

Drew Brees grew up in Texas, an overlooked high school recruit who eventually resurrected Purdue's image as Quarterback U.

Now the New Orleans native and the Purdue favorite have changed places. When the NFL season kicks off Thursday night, Manning will be Indiana's reigning king while Brees returns to his former college state as the bright hope for a resurgent New Orleans franchise - and the despised opponent.

Oddsmakers from have made Indianapolis -6 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for tonights game, the over/under has been set at 52.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 58% of bets for this game have been placed on the Indianapolis Colts -6 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

``I'm sure there will be some Boilers fans there, but they'll probably all be wearing Colts jerseys,'' Brees said.

For Manning and Brees, the NFL's marquee opening matchup will be more reunion than rivalry.

The two became friends when Brees was a Heisman Trophy candidate at Purdue, about an hour northwest of Indianapolis. Since then, their paths have crossed several times.

Both have been major players in supporting the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Manning and his brother, Eli, shipped a plane full of supplies to their hometown just days after the devastating hurricane struck.

Brees has taken the commitment even further. He's renovating a house in New Orleans rather than living in a suburb, and in June, Brees announced he would raise $2.5 million for rebuilding projects. So far, he says, his charitable foundation has about $500,000.

That brought kudos from Manning last week on the second anniversary of the hurricane.

But on the field, Manning and Brees have been ferocious competitors.

In December 2004, their first pro meeting, Brees had better numbers, but Manning broke the single-season touchdown record and wound up a 34-31 winner over San Diego.

The rematch, in December 2005, went to Brees' Chargers in a 26-17 upset that ended Indy's perfect start at 13-0.

This time, the game will come with more hype and all the trimmings of a Super Bowl winner.

Indy plans to unfurl its championship banner during a pregame ceremony, and artists such as John Mellencamp, Faith Hill and Kelly Clarkson will play concerts in the city. The whole nation is eagerly anticipating the NFL's first meaningful game in seven months, and the people of Indianapolis view Thursday night as a mini-Super Bowl.

Some analysts have even called the game a potential Super Bowl preview between two of the NFL's three best offenses in 2006.

Manning expected every bit of it.

``I figured when I saw the schedule come out that we'd be playing them in the opener,'' he said. ``Either them or New England. I think it should be a great atmosphere.''

And, of course, with Manning and Brees on the field, it could turn into a shootout.

Besides the Super Bowl MVP, the Colts have two Pro Bowl receivers, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, and last year's top rookie rusher, Joseph Addai.

The Saints, coming off their first NFC championship game appearance in franchise history, counter with perennial 1,000-yard rusher Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, one of the league's most exciting backs and a player the Saints want to feature more this year.

``It's a great problem to have,'' Brees said. ``We want to give those guys as many opportunities to touch the ball as we can. What's great is they both work so well together.''

So defense will likely be the decisive factor.

Both teams are looking to improve after the Colts ranked last in the league against the run, while the Saints were in the bottom third of the league against the pass.

One change will take cornerback Jason David from covering Wayne in practice to competing against him in a game. David, a free agent, left the Colts for New Orleans in April.

``He's a scrappy guy,'' said Wayne, another New Orleans native. ``He'll be probably be a lot more worried than I will. But he's a good player.''

Then, of course, there are the headline attractions.

Manning and Brees were each selected to start for their respective conferences in the Pro Bowl last season, and are in charge of teams that again have Super Bowl hopes.

For the quarterbacks with roots in Indiana and New Orleans, each is content to forget their pasts and put their friendship on hold for a few hours Thursday night.

The schedule-makers didn't give them a choice.

``I've known Drew for a long time, since college,'' Manning said. ``He's done a great job down there with the Saints and in the community, and he's a tremendous guy. But it will be a great challenge for the defense to see him and try to stop him.''

By: Staci Richards - - Email Us

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