Super Bowl rematch largely for reserves

Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Griese prepares to pass during the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Houston Texans on August 11 in Houston. The Bears won 20-19. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, DAVE EINSEL


Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Griese prepares to pass during the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Houston Texans on August 11 in Houston. The Bears won 20-19. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, DAVE EINSEL

By Michael Marot

INDIANAPOLIS – Colts quarterback Jim Sorgi just wanted to make a guest appearance in the Super Bowl. Nothing fancy, maybe a kneel down at game’s end or holding for an extra point.

He never got a chance backing up the game’s MVP, Peyton Manning.

On Monday night, things will change as Sorgi and the other super subs take center stage in the pseudo-Super Bowl rematch between Indianapolis and Chicago.

“I don’t know how much the offense will play, maybe one or two series,” he said. “Then you’re going to see all the guys who were standing on the sidelines last year. So it’s our Super Bowl, even though the score doesn’t count.”

Nothing counts unless, of course, you’re a player fighting for a roster spot.

The game will hardly resemble Miami’s grand atmosphere. No crazy interview sessions, no trophy presentation, no celebrities and, thankfully, no rain inside the RCA Dome. Heck, tickets were even available Thursday after the Bears returned 400 to the Colts.

But instead of seeing superstars, fans will be treated primarily to watching guys like Sorgi.

Manning, the two-time league MVP, and Rex Grossman might play into the second quarter. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, the 2005 defensive player of the year, might not play at all and Colts safety Bob Sanders won’t even dress.

Yet the plotline looks the same: Chicago vs. Indianapolis.

“In the back of your mind, you’re thinking this is the team that beat you in the Super Bowl,” Grossman said. “But it’s still just a preseason game.”

Don’t mistake reality for apathy.

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman acknowledges he still gets annoyed watching replays of the 29-17 loss, and safety Mike Brown, who missed the game with a foot injury, tries not to think about what could have been if he hadn’t been out with a foot injury.

The first black coaches to reach the Super Bowl, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, who remain friends, also believe the game is significant – albeit for a different reason.

“Whenever you get a chance to play against the world champions, it’s big,” Smith said. “It’s just another chance to see exactly where we are with our evaluation of our football team.”

Among Smith’s priorities are getting longer looks at rookie tight end Greg Olsen and Devin Hester, the Pro Bowl return specialist who is being used more at receiver during the preseason.

Dungy, meanwhile, needs to find replacements for five Super Bowl starters. The biggest hole is left tackle, where the Colts lost three-time Pro Bowler Tarik Glenn to retirement.

Rookie Tony Ugoh, a second-round pick, takes over on Manning’s blind side and performed reasonably well against DeMarcus Ware.

Dungy also wants to see if new starting cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden continue their aggressive play. Bears fans should remember the unheralded Hayden, who picked off Grossman late in the Super Bowl and returned it 56 yards for a TD to seal Chicago’s fate.

But both teams have shown preseason results mean little when the regular season starts.

Chicago, which went 2-2 in 2006, then opened the regular season with seven straight wins – its best start since the 1985 Super Bowl season.

Indianapolis lost eight of nine preseason games in 2005 and 2006 and still managed to become the first team in league history with back-to-back 9-0 starts. The Colts’ summer misery continued with last week’s 23-10 loss at Dallas, giving them 10 losses in 11 preseason games.

“We’d like to win,” Dungy said. “Fortunately for us, it has not carried over into the regular season.”

The Bears should also expect a frenzied atmosphere.

Dungy wants to begin establishing dominance at home, and he’s expecting an excitable crowd to help in Indy’s first home game since winning the AFC title.

“It means a lot when you have people accuse you of pumping up the noise and turning up the heat because that means people are uncomfortable there and that’s what you want,” Dungy said.

For Sorgi and the rest of the backups, Monday night’s game is about something else – proving they can play.

Because of Manning’s uncanny ability to stay healthy, Sorgi rarely takes snaps during regular season or postseason games.

That won’t be the case Monday night for the Colts’ Maytag repairman.

“It’s important to me,” he said. “The first three years, I was trying to get the offense down. Now that I’ve gotten the offense, I’m trying to get little bits and pieces perfected.”

Just don’t expect a Super Bowl performance from the teams trying to defend their conference crowns.

“It really doesn’t count for anything, except it’s an opportunity for us to get better,” Brown said. “Obviously, people are going to make a big deal about it because the two teams were in the Super Bowl. … But I haven’t seen a difference between the way we prepare. No one’s even really talked about it.”