By Dave Levinthal
Come Super Bowl Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning will find himself perched inches away from New Orleans Saints' Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who's tasked, in part, with dislodging the all-galaxy quarterback's head.
But the outcome of professional football's most glorious game isn't the only point on which Manning and Vilma disagree.
In a teeny, tiny Super Bowl subplot, the two rivals are political foils, too.
That's because Manning, the evermore political National Football League's most valuable player in 2009, is a dedicated Republican bankroller, having contributed to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush ($2,000) and Fred Thompson ($2,300), a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates. Manning has also contributed $5,200 to the campaign of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
Vilma, meanwhile, has donated $4,800 to Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who's now running for the Democratic nomination in an atypically crowded U.S. Senate race.
Manning's patterns of political giving -- to an extent -- mirror those of Colts owner Jim Irsay, who has donated to Republican candidates and interests for years, including Bush, the Republican National Committee and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar.
Players, employees and executives associated with the Colts slightly favor the GOP in their political giving, with 53 percent of their cash going to Republicans, the Center found. In all, Colts associates have contributed more than $121,000 to federal-level candidates and committees since the 1990 election cycle.
But Irsay, who has himself donated more than $86,000 to federal political candidates during the past two decades, has also lined Democrats' pockets, as well. U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) are among the left-leaning recipients of his wealth, according to the Center's research.
That stands in stark contrast to the Saints' political giving history, which is overwhelmingly Republican.
That's largely thanks to team owner Tom Benson, who's cut checks to GOP politicos from presidential candidates Bush and Rudy Giuliani to Sens. David Vitter and John Cornyn.
Former Saints head coach Mike Ditka also contributed thousands of dollars to Republicans, including Bush, John McCain and the Republican National Committee. Another former Saints head coach, Jim Haslett, also donated $2,000 to the RNC.
If Vilma -- a rare Saint who bucks his team's Republican leanings -- feels lonely with that designation, maybe he'll find solace in the fact that at least one of his athletic enemies is a political compatriot: Colts defensive end Raheem Brock gave Barack Obama $2,300 during the 2008 presidential campaign.
To see the Saints' and Colts' political contributions during the past 20 years, click here: superbowldonors.xls