I never thought I would say this (actually write it), but I’m glad Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl.
That is hard for me to say seeing that I have been one of the loudest critics of Manning most of his college and pro career and I will explain why and how I’ve gone an about face.
I used to like Archie Manning growing up. Sure, he played for the New Orleans Saints the number one rival of my Atlanta Falcons but he was one of a very few SEC quarterbacks to be semi-successful in the NFL. The Saints were lovable losers and Archie was the only shining star of the former perennial losers. I hate Archie now and that’s because of his Svengali control over his sons and the NFL, most notably his manipulating the 2004 draft telling the Chargers his son will not play for him if drafted. Well, you know what happened next.
Peyton showed up at UT much to a lot of people’s surprise since dear old dad attended Ole Miss. I found out a number of years ago that this was planned by father Archie, adding to my dislike the past dozen years of the patriarch of the Manning clan. I remember a skinny, awkward Manning coming into his first game, once which Tennessee was losing, mind you. He was encouraging. Tennessee football was underwhelming at the time (it usually is no matter what the fan base screams) and I started to cheer for the young Manning. He made the Tennessee – Alabama game interesting for the first time in years.
All of a sudden Manning was a god. He could do no wrong – especially if you listened to his obnoxious fans – the entire “Orange Nation”. Peyton fever swept everywhere. He was a local/regional celebrity. I remember hanging out at my favorite watering hole talking to my favorite bartender and Manning was in the house. He came over and excitingly told me he served a beer to Peyton. Rusty was a veteran bartender and people came from miles around to hang out at his bar. Rusty was a celebrity in his own right. “Rusty,” I said. Rusty leaned over. “He’s only 20.” Rusty got an embarrassed look on his face just realizing he served a beer to someone not of age. Granted it happens all the time and is probably as I write this but you see where I’m going.
Rusty epitomizes to me the typical Tennessee fan. Unrealistic with unrealistic expectations. Truth be told the Volunteers are a second level SEC team not world-beaters, as their fans would have you believe. Early in my youth the school fell out of favor with me when then coach Bill Battle lost a game against whom I don’t remember. I was just at that age when I started to recognize teams and certain players. Before I would cheer for whomever my dad told me to cheer or I would base my allegiance on which uniform looked cooler. And on a black and white TV I would always cheer for the team wearing white because I was always told that the good guys wear white. Back to Bill Battle.
After this supposedly bad loss booster sent moving trucks to his house. I thought this was stupid. And after all football is just a game – or so I thought. I watched the homecoming of Tennessee hero Johnny Majors to coach and how he was railroaded out of town.
I once tried to cheer for Tennessee again about 16 years ago. I had a new best friend and ironically his favorite college and NFL teams were the two I hated the most – Tennessee and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead of my usual smart-ass remarks about the Vols I forced myself into being positive at first around him. I remember one opening day the Vols won my around 30 points. When I saw my friend I commented on how good the Vols looked. He growled at me and said they sucked and then went on a tirade about the defense and how the offense underperformed. I was dumbstruck. To this day I still give him hell about the team and the last ten or so he has reluctantly been forced to agree.
Back to Peyton. Manning was treated like a choirboy that could do no wrong. I got tired of the non-stop praise. Truth be told his only kryptonite while at Tennessee was Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators. He could never beat Florida and I always got a kick out of it. Spurrier always had the beset one-liners before the game and after beating Tennessee – all of which made me laugh at loud. “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T.” for example.
Then came his senior season. I must admit Manning did live up to the hype in college and he was a good kid and a good student graduating after only three years but went back to school to play one more year to win the Heisman.
Manning had another brilliant win but once again lost to Spurrier. He was then “upset” for the Heisman by Michigan’s Charles Woodson who was the first defensive player to win the Heisman in a long time if ever.
Orange Country went on a rampage. UT fans accused ESPN of having an anti-Volunteer bias and somehow claimed the Heisman vote was rigged so their “boy” did not win. For many years UT fans were hostile towards ESPN, especially if they came to town to broadcast a game. They called for boycotts and even random death threats.
At that time Michigan was ranked number one and Nebraska a close two in the two polls. Tennessee faced Nebraska in the Orange Bowl while Michigan played Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Michigan won a hard fought game against Washington State that featured another Heisman finalist by the name of Ryan Leaf. The Vols were routed in the Orange Bowl and many still talk the team intentionally lost bad so as to convince voters to choose Nebraska number one over Michigan in the final polls. As it worked out the two teams split the polls but most people recognize the Wolverines as National Champions.
Then came the NFL draft with Manning and Leaf going one and two. No one knew up until the first selection which quarterback would go first but Manning got the nod with Leaf two and also ended up being by many experts one of the biggest if not the biggest draft busts. But where not talking about Leaf right now, we’re talking (actually writing) about Peyton.
Manning has gone on to have one of the greatest NFL careers ever – much to my dismay at times. The one thing that seemed to escape him was the vaunted Lombardi trophy.
Despite setting one record after another the Super Bowl title seemed to avoid him. People started calling him the Marino of his generation. (Personally I would rather have Marino’s career than almost any other quarterbacks – Super Bowl ring or not.) Despite winning one NFL MPV after another he was stuck without a ring – until the 1996 season.
That year the Colts finally made it to the Super Bowl. They face the Bears who were quarterbacked by Rex Grossman. Grossman of course played QB at Florida the one school that was Manning’s kryptonite.
The Colts won handily pulling away in the second half. I could have – and actually predicted that. Grossman was one of the few quarterbacks to ever lose to the Volunteers under Steve Spurrier. I figured that loss to Tennessee is why the “Ole Ball Coach” left Florida for the NFL. Orange Nation cheered. Not me so much. Here are the main reasons I have never been a Peyton Manning fan until recently…
My dislike of the UT fan base is the number one reason. He is a god or saint in their eyes. He can do no wrong if you listen to them talk (the ones that can speak in complete sentences). And then media. It has always been my opinion for a lack of better say of saying it – kiss Peyton Manning’s ass. They are never – or rarely critical of him. He can do no wrong. If you asked them until this year they believed he was untouchable.
Another reason is that he seems to pad his numbers. Part of the reason this about him pisses me off is because he broke Dan Marino’s singe season touchdown pass record. I am admittedly an unashamed Miami Dolphins fan going to before the undefeated season actually. Marino was my guy. In the year he broke Marino’s record he threw an inordinate number on one-yard touchdown passes. Really? That’s a wussy pass in my book. (Actually replace the “w” with a “p” – I didn’t want to offend anyone) When you are at the one you run it in. It’s not like the Colts didn’t have great running backs like Edgerrin James and serviceable ones like Joseph Addai. Marino rely threw touchdown passes from that close to the goal line. His were real touchdown passes. That’s what pissed me off. I found it great irony – although it didn’t really make me any happier is the fact that longtime Manning rival Tom Brady broke that record the next year. Karma.
Another thing that added to my dislike was Manning’s dad Archie for him basically telling the Chargers not to draft little brother Eli because hot only did he not want him to play there – he wouldn’t. Who the hell does dad think he is? You know what happened next. I have never cheered for the younger Manning once. Actually I have twice. Once in the 2008 Super Bowl when they kept the Patriots from going undefeated (My Miami bias here) and the second time the Giants met the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I hate the Patriots for many reasons and I will explain later because I’m hating on Manning now.
I have found myself conflicted at times. I have enjoyed all the commercials. He’s a great pitchman. He’s affable, actually funny and doesn’t mind making fun of himself, which is rare in this era of pro sports with all the egomaniacs. In a world full of Cam Newton’s it’s great to have Peyton Manning. More on Newton later… again this is about Peyton.
I found myself in a quandary because of my dislike of Manning the quarterback and Manning the pitchman who is funny and downright likable. Over the years I’ve fun into Manning off the football field. I already talked about our time at the bar when he was in college and then the first year or two he was a pro he lived not far from me and we both ended up at the same sports bar on Sunday which is when I held court with my group of friends. For a while there somehow he was always parked in the space in front of me and we had adjoining booths. He laughed and carried on like every other 20-something. There was no entourage or ego like I have seen with lesser sports figures, especially local ones. He carried on as just a regular guy.
But I couldn’t shake my dislike for Peyton Manning the athlete.
As long as I can remember the media has done nothing but sing his praises. He could do no wrong in their eyes – both at UT and in the NFL. And the fan base… geez. Peyton fans are everywhere many that never went to UT or been to a pro game. And to top it all off most are obnoxious. Of course that is par for the course for UT fans and SEC fans in general. There was never a criticism… ever. And his assault on my football icons’ records. Ever since I was little I had been a Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons fan. The Dolphins were the first team I saw on color TV and was hooked by the colors… and the fact they were good compared to my neighboring Falcons. And this was before they went to their first Super Bowl so I am not a bandwagoneer like most Manning and SEC football fans.
On numerous occasions during Manning’s heyday the Colts got close to being an undefeated team. Only the Dolphins have completed an entire season undefeated including the Super Bowl. Of course that is the ’72 team that critics like to lambaste because of their popping the champagne whenever the last undefeated team falls. The Patriots got close in ’07 but ironically it was little brother Eli Manning that ended that streak in the Super Bowl that featured one of the most improbable catches in football history. But thanks to coach Tony Dungy’s belief in resting his starters after clinching the top seed the Colts gave up a couple undefeated seasons late. And usually that spelled doom for the Colts in the playoffs. Despite making the playoffs every year with Dungy and Manning the team only made it to the big game once.
And then the touchdown passing record… Being a lifelong Dolphins fan it is only natural to assume that Dan Marino is one of my favorite quarterbacks of all time. He is – next to Bob Griese. Manning broke Marino’s single season touchdown pass record of 48 by one in 2006. I’ve always hated Manning for that. Of course Tom Brady broke it the next year that I found odd pleasure in despite the fact I hate Brady and the Patriots more. I was always put off by the number of one-yard touchdown passes Manning threw that year. It was as if he was intentionally trying to pad his stats and set the record. If it wasn’t for his charismatic TV commercials who knows? I may have sent someone to break his legs by now. But by golly he’s so darned likeable.
And then 2015 happened. The 2015 NFL season I swear was like living in a parallel universe. Out of nowhere, but I guess was bound to happen, Peyton Manning was no longer the NFL’s golden child. Sports talking head after another, each game color analyst was critical of Manning’s play often citing his a liability. Imagine that. Who would have ever thought this would ever happen.
And they kept piling on him – over and over again week in week out. It got so bad I started feeling sorry for Peyton. Despite starting 6-0 sportswriters and analysts were calling for Manning to make room for Brock Osweiler the heir apparent in Denver.
Manning this past season did not play like Peyton Manning; instead he looked like every other run of the mill quarterback. And there are some theories behind that. New coach Gary Kubiak installed his offense taking the play calling out of Manning’s hands. Kubiak’s offense was run first and a total different philosophy regarding the passing attack. At best Manning looked uncomfortable. It wasn’t the offense winning games and eventually the Super Bowl it was the defense.
For the first time since his rookie season Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The only times when Manning looked like his old self was during the two-minute drill where he called the plays and used the audible. On those drives it was a precision passing game and that missing “arm strength” seemed to be back in full force. And the Broncos scored.
For the first time in his life Peyton Manning was the underdog. That is when I finally became a fan of Manning the quarterback. I hate the way sports pundits and our society as a whole will treat someone as a golden child and once they aren’t as productive they get cast aside or verbally downtrodden by everyone.
I actually cheered for Manning. I didn’t cheer for the Broncos per se as I hate the Broncos because of John Elway. Elway, I hate more than any other football player for many reasons and I did not want to see him hoist the Lombardi Trophy. My beef with Elway goes back to the ’83 draft when he basically told the Colts who had the number one pick not to draft him and if they did he would play baseball instead. Plus I think he was overrated.
That being said Manning missed a good portion of the season with a foot injury. Osweiler took over and did something Manning always had difficulty doing – defeat Brady and the Patriots. He was the new golden child in the Mile High City. But as the season winded down Manning was reactivated and was relegated to backup – something he hadn’t been since the first part of his freshman year at UT. But as the season drew to a close he had to do what he did his freshman year at UT – replace an ineffective quarterback. The brain trust kept with Manning through the playoffs and they made it to the Super Bowl. Manning wasn’t great, as he became more of a game manager. He limited his mistakes and let the defense do its thing. Peyton finally made it back to the Super Bowl. And this time I was happy about it.
And while I hate the Broncos and well… you know my feelings about Manning, I hated the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. I’ve always called Newton the “best college quarterback money can buy” – just ask his dad. Newton is the anti-Manning. Where Manning is “aw shucks”, Newton is “look at me!” Basically an arrogant prick. No one in sports media will say it but I just did. Cam Newton is an arrogant prick on the field of play. Having fun playing the game is one thing but being a showboat and eventually as sore loser is another.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the Broncos defeated Carolina. Manning was underwhelming again but was not a liability. As much as I disliked him as a player most of his career I enjoyed seeing him succeeding in what may be his last game. I was finally able to marry my like of Manning the individual with Manning the player. And when all is said and done it was a fairytale ending to a fairytale career.
– David N. Marks
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