Pearl partial to Patriots

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl grew up in Boston and attended Boston College, so it isn't surprising that he's a fan of the New England Patriots.

He's a fan of the Patriots, that is, except when they're playing the Indianapolis Colts. It seems Pearl is an even bigger fan of ex-Vol Peyton Manning than he is of his hometown NFL team.

"Peyton converted me," Pearl said this week. "My dad and I are die-hard Red Sox and Celtics and Bruins and Patriots fans. But Peyton made it personal. He made a personal appeal to a long-time Patriots fan, and when they went at each other last year in the playoffs (2007 AFC Championship Game), I was rooting for Peyton because he's a Tennessee Vol and a friend."

Since Peyton Manning is not involved in Sunday's Super Bowl matchup between unbeaten New England and the New York Giants, Pearl will be cheering heartily for his beloved Patriots ... even though Peyton's brother, Eli, is the Giants' quarterback.

"While I love the Patriots, I don't know those guys like I know Peyton," Pearl said. "But I can't make that transition to Eli. I can't. I can't. Even though he's Ole Miss and SEC and Archie (father to Peyton and Eli) has been wonderful, I can't do it."

Pearl won't rule out the possibility of someday pulling for Eli as passionately as he pulls for Peyton. But that might require a personal plea, like the one he got from Peyton.

"If Eli wants to try and be a better friend of mine, fine, maybe I'll make the transition," Pearl said, grinning smugly. "I'm very happy for Eli. What a wonderful story. Regardless of the outcome, it's a phenomenal story to see him play so well and with such great consistency."

Eli Manning was widely considered a bust midway through the 2007-08 season, faring poorly in comparisons with his celebrated older brother. Eli got hot in the final weeks of the regular season, however, and continued to play well in the Giants' first three playoff games.

"He received way more criticism than he deserved (earlier)," Pearl said. "Now, just because he's been sharp for three or four games, all of a sudden he's arrived."

Ultimately, Pearl believes New England, bidding to become the first team in NFL history to complete a 19-0 season, is primed to win Sunday's Super Bowl.

"The Patriots," he said, "are a team of destiny."

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