Peyton Manning can't get enough of "Omaha."
The Denver quarterback barked out the name of Nebraska's largest city 44 times during the Broncos' win over Chargers last week. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce said it will donate $500 to Manning's "Peyback Foundation" each time he shouts"Omaha" during Sunday's game against New England.
Manning's explanation of the hard-count call this week left plenty to the imagination. He said it could be running play, or "it could be a pass play, or a play-action pass, depending on a couple of things. The wind. Which way we're going. The quarter. And the jerseys we're wearing. So it really varies play to play."
No matter how many times Manning calls out "Omaha" on Sunday, the Patriots claim they're ready to handle it.
As a member of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Chris Kilroy was thrilled to hear Manning plug his adopted hometown so often on national television last week. But Kilroy will not be rooting for Manning or his Broncos Sunday.
Not a chance, even if that means the potential for another 40 or so shout-outs for his new city in front of a world-wide audience in the Super Bowl.
"As much as Manning messes around with audibles, who knows if it means anything at all," Kilroy says. "It seems like at least half of what he does pre-snap is meant to confuse the defense, not communicate with the offense."
Kilroy, who "represents as a Chowderhead everyday," grew up in Dedham and met his Nebraska-native wife while attending Providence College. "My dad had exquisite timing with [Patriots] season tickets. I believe he owned them for two years. One year was . We went to every home game and also the 'Squish the Fish' AFC Championship game in Miami. I also flew back in '01 for the 'Tuck Rule' Snow Bowl game, the single best live sporting event I probably will ever attend."
Kilroy works as an advisor for a financial services company and has lived in Omaha since 1997. He and his wife have three teen-aged children.
Omaha is a secondary TV market for Kansas City Chiefs. That would make many of the NFL fans there naturally pre-disposed to root against both Manning and Tom Brady. Kilroy said much of the pro-sports fan base in Omaha is fickle and has a "band wagon" mentality. "There are many different 'fans' out here," he told the OBF blog via email. "They bandwagon the Broncos and Packers, as well. You kind of adopt a team for a couple of weeks, then forget about them when they're done. I think a lot of folks do that with pro teams [since Omaha has none]. All of the Chiefs fans are on our side. I have the most respect for the Vikings fans because they're loyal like I was growing up with the Pats. Crappy team, unshakable allegiance. The rest are free agents that I don't need to waste my energy on."
He and his sons will watch the Patriots at a local sports bar when the games are not available on his home TV. For those games, he opens up the Kilroy's Boston Sports Cave [aka his basement].
Patriots' red is a natural fit in these parts, especially on Saturdays during college football season when Memorial Stadium in Lincoln and its "Sea of Red" fills up with more than 86,000 Nebraska Cornhusker [and Alfonzo Dennard] fans and becomes the second-largest city in the state.
Before the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI, "no one" in Lincoln had any Patriots gear, Kilroy said.
But there was at least one other Patriots' living in Omaha during their "Dark Ages."
Stephanie Chandler, pictured above with her wife ["I'm the cool one in the Patriots' gear."] grew up in Kansas and was not much of an pro football fan as kid. Her interest in the NFL was sparked when she moved to to Omaha and began working at a sports radio station.
"I got into it," she recalled. And it included the pre-Brady and Bill Belichick Patriots.
"Drew Bledsoe was QB at the time and, I just loved how they always worked together and stuck at it. When he got hurt, Brady came in [during the 2001 AFC Championship game], he fashions a TD drive. A lot of my favorites are no longer with the team [Tedy [Bruschi], Wes [Welker], but there always seems to be new an amazing talent to get behind," she added via email.
Chandler agrees that the NFL fan base in Omaha is fairly diverse. "Red fits in easily on Saturdays, but is really is a potluck out here when it comes to the NFL - Broncos, Packers, Vikings, Bears, and (more so than recently) Chiefs," she said. "You can go out to any sports bar and see someone in a Browns jersey, just as easily as a Saints jersey."
Chandler has retired her Welker jersey, but still wears "something Pats every Sunday." She has to work during the game Sunday, will be able to see most of it on TV. "I'm just hoping it makes me smile at customers and not yell expletives at them."
The resiliency of the Patriots this season has reinforced Chandler's support of the Patriots, even among both Chiefs and Broncos fans in Omaha.
"Every time someone tries to count us out, we prove them wrong. Brady gets hurt by the Chiefs [in 2008] and we still end with a winning season. Half of our offense is traded or otherwise not available, and here we are, playing for the AFC Championship," she said. "I don't think anyone gives Bill the credit he deserves for seeing what his strengths and weaknesses are, and blending them together so perfectly into a winning combination. Everyone thinks that Brady is the one that holds this team together, but we've proved that we can do it whether he's at the top of his game or sitting on the sidelines ... We always seem to come together at just the right moments - and that's what makes the team so special."
Living a time-zone west of Foxborough offers license for liberal usage of the royal "we," especially when Manning has adopted the name of your city in his cadence.
"There are a lot of Bronco fans out here [but] I have never been a fan of any Manning - Peyton or Eli - so I got a little nauseous scrolling through my Facebook last Monday and seeing it over an over and over again. Now, if it was Brady doing it, that would be a whole other story," Chandler said. "I think it's an easy term for QBs to use. I would prefer that Manning use 'I suck' as an audible, but I doubt that would go over too well."
Perhaps in Foxborough, but not so much in "Omaha."
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We'd like to give a special thanks to Matt Perrault [@sportstalkmatt] of ESPN New Hampshire, who lived and worked in Nebraska for five years, for his help with this story.
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