Last week I wrote about Peyton Manning with the theme being how he was good, but not as great as he could – and should – have been.
That was before Sunday’s playoff game against Manning’s former team – the Indianapolis Colts – and the player drafted to replace him, Andrew Luck.
Before I get too far into the piece, I want to disclose that I would consider myself a “Peyton Manning hater.”
He’s never done anything negative toward me or even beaten a team I liked in an important game, but there’s something about him I can’t stand.
I thought maybe it was his southern “aw shucks” demeanor or maybe his tendency to “show up” his teammates with his reactions to disappointment or not being on same wavelength as him.
Recently, however, I realized that it’s a hatred born out of disappointment.
Part of the reason we watch sports is because we want to see greatness.
We want to see these walking myths do something that few, if any, people have done before. A 56-game hitting streak. 100 points in a NBA game. Whatever comparable hockey thing.
Four Super Bowl rings.
Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana (that old guy getting the free pizza in Peyton Manning’s Papa John’s commercials) each won four Super Bowls as a starting quarterback. Sure, they both won in a time (mostly) before free agency and when far fewer teams reached the playoffs, but they won four – regardless of the circumstances.
Four rings is the benchmark.
Bradshaw won his four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers before I was born and I don’t remember a thing from Montana’s run with the San Francisco 49ers.
What I do remember is Peyton Manning leading the band at Tennessee. I remember the Manning/Leaf debates (and the cruelly fun self-destruction of Ryan Leaf). I remember when it became obvious Manning and his teams weren’t going to come through in enough big spots to win five rings. That’s when I turned on him. Instead of seeing the greatest quarterback of all time, I saw Dan Marino with a Super Bowl ring.
One, singular Super Bowl ring.
Manning is a better “pure passer” than Tom Brady and it seems like no one puts in the hours Manning does and it seems like no one sees the game on the level he sees it.
So why couldn’t he reach the benchmark?
The only thing I can think of is maybe he isn’t the best “leader.” Maybe his “aw shucks” demeanor works with the general public that is going through a phrase of redneck love, but doesn’t motivate a team to go into battle. Maybe his insistence on perfection makes it impossible to get the best out of his teammates in big spots, like a kid who is afraid his parents will scold him for not getting the winning hit in Little League.
It would seem that I should feel elated that Manning looked washed up in that playoff loss. I should be pumped that he got his comeuppance against his old team and the young quarterback they chose to replace him. I should be happy that he’s considering retirement; but instead I just feel sad.
It’s sad to see the end of an amazing career; to see someone with all the talent and dedication in the world be unable to stave off Father Time.
It’s a reminder of my own mortality, that no matter what, Father Time, as they say, is undefeated.
Manning’s current boss (besides Papa John), John Elway (also, not Papa John), once had the label of being unable to win the big game so much this happened:
In time, however, Elway got the right supporting cast and won two Super Bowls in a row (he was hurt part of his final season) before riding off into the sunset; leaving us wondering if he could have done the impossible and won three Super Bowls in a row.
With Manning there will be no more great “what ifs.”
He has one – maybe two – seasons left in him at a diminishing-returns level. He’s blown past his prime and is like all of us will be one day, wondering what happened.