NEW ORLEANS - 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.
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."
The 26-year-old Manningham had 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns last year before leaving New York. He made 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games and 10 starts this season, his fifth in the NFL.
"Mario Manningham has his fingerprints all over our success, as do a lot of people," Harbaugh said. "The players on our team, this is a shared thing. Everybody doing a little adds up to a lot."
His plan is to watch Sunday standing up, while keeping pressure off his knee. Manningham said there's no way could possibly sit down through a Super Bowl, even if his healing knee would be better for it.
"I'm going to be alright," he said. "Injuries are part of the game, I'm not mad. I wish I was playing. Everything happens for a reason."
For now, he will offer up any insight he can for those teammates who haven't been to a Super Bowl - which is most of them.
"I know it's a big stage. We're going to treat it like it's just another game," Manningham said. "I just tell them don't worry about the crowd ... Just go out there and play."