Peyton keeps crowd entertained at Super Bowl media day

NEWARK, N.J. — From the moment the Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game Jan. 19, there was absolutely no doubt who the media star of Super Bowl XLVIII was going to be.

If that wasn’t totally clear to anyone “covering” media day on Tuesday, it certainly was well before the Broncos’ Peyton Manning confidently strode to a podium marked with a sign bearing his name.

More than an hour before the one-hour session began, reporters, still photographers, cameramen and others staked their claim to a little piece of the Prudential Center floor surrounding the seat Manning would come to occupy.

Unlike recalcitrant Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who later would give the media a fierce stiff-arm for the final 54 minutes of his team’s one-hour interview period, Manning gave them what they wanted — and a lot more.

Manning, in his third Super Bowl Media Day, answered every question posed him — 91 in all — and was still taking them after the availability ended and an NFL official desperately tried to whisk him away.

While he knew going in that the buzzwords were going to be Omaha, the overly talked-about pre-snap read he barks out during games, and sunset — as in if the 37-year-old quarterback intends to ride off into the sunset after Sunday night’s game in MetLife Stadium — Manning handled it all flawlessly.

And in his usual witty way, he had some fun doing it.

For the record, the word sunset was uttered in under two minutes, while it took less than five minutes for Omaha to come up — the first among a handful of mentions in the hour-plus he was sitting there.

From the time Todd, an intern from “The Late Show with David Letterman,” looked into a camera and deadpanned, “Now, for my exclusive interview with Peyton Manning” — while amid the throng — it was more entertaining than some of the early Super Bowls.

One of the highlights came when Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel stood in front of Manning with a microphone flag promoting a dandruff shampoo.

Keisel, who sports an overgrown beard, asked Manning if hair would be a factor in Sunday’s game.

“Hair can be a key component … not enough people are talking about it,” Manning said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “It’s always overlooked. Some people have more to show for it, but some people — like myself — are losing it daily.”

Manning joked that with all the hints about retirement, he wonders if people are trying to get rid of him after putting together the most productive season by a quarterback in NFL history.

Some of it, he said, is emanating from his own locker room.

While he normally autographs lots of memorabilia during the season for other players’ charities and fundraising events, he said he’s seen more teammates ask him to autograph things to them personally.

“I feel like they’re dropping hints to me,” said Manning, who likely will be named the league’s MVP by The Associated Press on Saturday night for a record fifth time in his 16-year career. “It’s sort of like, ‘Can’t we do this in the spring?’ But I haven’t given (retirement) it a lot of thought.”

As far as following the lead of team executive and former Broncos quarterback John Elway, who walked away after winning back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s, Manning got serious.

After noting that Elway retired at 38 because the game had taken a toll on his body after 16 seasons, Manning said, “I feel a little bit better than I thought I would coming off that surgery (actually four neck surgeries) a couple of years ago.

“I feel better physically,” he added. “I’ve been rejuvenated playing in a different offense, playing with new receivers, because it keeps me stimulated every day. So I certainly would like to keep playing.”

His MVP award will come two seasons after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts and one season after being named Comeback Player of the Year following his neck issues.

“That (comeback player) is something you never want to be eligible for,” he said with a wry smile. “I think I would label it more as a ‘second chance’ or ‘second opportunity’ award.”