Peyton Manning's road to the Super Bowl has taken an unexpected detour through Omaha, of all places.
The Denver Broncos quarterback pretended to shed light this week on why he shouted the Nebraska city’s name 44 times from the line of scrimmage during their playoff win over San Diego last weekend.
"I've had a lot of people ask me what 'Omaha' means," Manning said. "It's a run play, but 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. It varies from play to play."
In other words, Manning wasn’t telling. Or maybe he was.
It could mean different things in different situations, said NFL experts who tried to explain this week.
ESPN’s Trent Difler, a former quarterback, said quarterbacks make so many calls at the line of scrimmage they use “Omaha” to indicate they are about to call the snap.
Dilfer said he first heard it called by New England’s Tom Brady, Manning's opponent in this Sunday's AFC Championship Game. Manning’s brother, Eli, the Giants' quarterback, uses it, too.
ESPN’s Tim Hasselbeck, another ex-QB, said Manning mixes his call sometimes to draw the defense offsides.
“If ‘Omaha, Omaha, set, hut!’ is your normal cadence, he might say, ‘Orange, Orange, Omaha, Omaha, set, hut!’ to get them to go offsides,” Hasselbeck said.
The Chargers jumped offside five times last week. And once the San Diego defenders realized they'd been duped, they spent the rest of the game a half-second slow.
ESPN’S Ron Jawosrki, another ex-QB, said he used “Omaha” to call off the play.
“Omaha – O for off,” Jaworski said.
Former wide receiver Randy Moss said on NFL Network that “Omaha” means “opposite.”
“When the safety comes up, he’s telling the offense we’re running the same play to the opposite side,” Moss said.
But Moss admitted “it could mean anything - or nothing.”
Whatever the reason, Manning’s obsession with Omaha was a top trender on Twitter during last Sunday's game and provided some unexpected publicity for the city of 427,000.
The Greater Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau jumped aboard, tweeting: "We certainly appreciate all the love from Peyton Manning :)"
"I think it shows Peyton Manning really loves Omaha," Mayor Jean Stothert said. "I'll personally take him on a tour. He has an official invitation now."
Chamber of Commerce President David Brown said he wants to explore the possibility of hiring Manning, one of the sporting world's top pitchmen, to shoot a promotional ad for Omaha, home of billionaire Warren Buffett, the NCAA College World Series and five Fortune 500 companies, including Mutual of Omaha.
"We'd be foolish not to," Brown said, adding that he realizes Manning's fee probably would be prohibitive.
But if Manning leads the Broncos to the Super Bowl and yells "Omaha" as many times as he did Sunday, the city could get more exposure without paying a cent, much less the $4 million fee for a 30-second Super Bowl ad.
"Commercials cost money to make, and you have to come up with the idea and hire a production company to make it. It could cost $4 million just for the production, and we get it for free," said Omaha PR and advertising executive Doug Parrott.
"Everybody in Omaha really needs to root for Peyton to take down Tom Brady and the Patriots so we can hear 'Omaha' in the Super Bowl."
The Denver Broncos took questions from the press Thursday afternoon. Here are some of their answers:
-- What does 'Omaha' mean?
"I've had a lot of people ask what Omaha means," Peyton Manning said. "It could be a run play, but it could also be a pass play or a play action pass depending on a couple things: The wind, which way we're going, the quarter and the jerseys that we're wearing."
-- Do you work harder to prepare?
"Preparation is important in games like this, and you have to have laser focus. But I would say this, if you have to prepare harder for this game, that probably means you haven’t been preparing properly all season long," Manning said.
-- Which QB is better: Manning or Brady?
"They're great quarterbacks," Wes Welker said of Manning and Brady. "They do a great job of keeping guys accountable and their leadership skills and everything else. If there's 2 guys you want quarterbacking your team, it’s a tossup between those 2."
-- How are the Patriots continually so good?
"There's a lot of turnover always in that organization," Champ Bailey said about the Patriots. "One thing about Brady, he overcomes that and their defense always plays well. So, it's not about one or two guys here or there - it's about their team"
-- What is the team's focus this week?
"Finish. That was the topic of (the last) game and that'll be the topic of this game," said
Wesley Woodyard. "These guys aren't going to go away. If they're down 30 points they're going to play the same as if they're up 30 points. "