Manningham a Super Bowl spectator for 49ers
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mario Manningham hobbled into the Superdome stands on crutches and found an out-of-the-way seat to watch his San Francisco teammates go through media day frenzy on the field below, his emotions mixed.
It's been nearly two weeks since the 49ers wide receiver underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee and almost a year since he made the catch of his life in the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory.
Manningham hoped to be playing on the New Orleans turf Sunday, when the 49ers face the Baltimore Ravens in the franchise's first Super Bowl in 18 years and with a perfect 5-0 championship record to protect. Instead, the soft-spoken wideout could win another ring, this time as a spectator.
"Possibility," he said of capturing back-to-back titles. "This is different for me right now. I'm not down, I just wish I could help my team. You're never down. It's not bitterness. It's not like I did something for me not to be out there. I'm not out there because of injury."
Yet this is hardly how Manningham envisioned it when he left the Giants and headed out West to play for Jim Harbaugh and the team he helped beat in last year's NFC championship game.
He did his very best not to sound glum. The crutches and bulky knee brace said it for him Tuesday morning.
As much as Manningham wants to be out there to help the NFC champion Niners (13-4-1) this weekend in the Big Easy, he realizes it's rare enough just to return to the NFL's showcase in consecutive years — with different teams.
That's something special to take from this unique Super Bowl experience.
"I don't think that's by coincidence," fellow injured wide receiver Kyle Williams said. "Mario's a great player. Any team that he gets on he's instantly going to make better."
While having the appreciation of his teammates sure helps, that doesn't make it easier now. Not after that spectacular over-the-shoulder 38-yard catch between two defenders in which he managed to stay inbounds to start the game-winning, 88-yard touchdown drive in last season's 21-17 Super Bowl victory against New England.
The reception highlighted a five-catch day for 73 yards. Manningham also caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning with 8:34 remaining in regulation of the NFC title game to help New York reach the Super Bowl — beating the 49ers 20-17 in overtime on their home field of Candlestick Park.
All the big plays from his memorable 2012 postseason are still plenty fresh.
"I think about it," Manningham said. "Good thing I got a chance to come back. There aren't too many players who leave one team and go back the next year."
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