VOL. 131 | NO. 51 | Friday, March 11, 2016
The Audible: Still Peyton Manning’s Best Weapon
By Don Wade
It was, of course, the closing of Peyton Manning’s recent retirement speech that provided the sound bite and made the headlines.
Peyton Manning said at his retirement press conference that he wasn’t sure what comes next in life, but he is open to a lot of possibilities.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Quoting 2 Timothy 4:7, Manning said: “I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” He then added: “Well, I have fought the good fight. I’ve finished my football race and after 18 years, it’s time. God bless all of you and God bless football.”
A pretty good sendoff.
But for many of us, it is the sights and sounds of all those Sunday afternoons and Monday nights that will linger.
All those times in our living rooms that we could hear Peyton at the line of scrimmage barking out an order – “Omaha, Omaha!” – and issuing yet another audible because all those hours of study were again paying off as he saw a safety or a linebacker make a slight movement and he adjusted in kind.
In between the game action, he would visit again – stumping for Sprint and MasterCard and telling us with a wink and a smile on behalf of Papa John’s, “Better football, better pizza.”
God bless capitalism, too.
What Michael Jordan did for the NBA, Peyton Manning has done for the NFL. Sure, the NFL already was huge. But if it somehow feels more open and accessible to the masses, to those people who will never want to know the game’s intricacies, it is in large part because the game’s best student also had the capacity to make the game fun.
Somehow, Peyton made himself come off as the neighborhood kid who was just good enough and worked hard enough to graduate from games in the yard to dominating at the highest level.
And yet the Manning family is – take your pick – a football factory, a football cult, a football franchise all its own. Even after Eli steps away one presumes that the Manning Passing Academy of father Archie and sons Peyton, Eli, and yes Cooper, too, will continue to, as it says at manningpassingacademy.com, “Create an environment of greater understanding …”
Smarter quarterbacks for us all, in other words. It is a great idea that came too late for some.
Remember back in 1998 when the Indianapolis Colts drafted Manning first overall out of the University of Tennessee and were said to have a tough choice? For months, the open question was whether Manning or Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf had the most upside.
Leaf played in all of 25 NFL games with the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. He threw a total of 14 touchdown passes. Know how many TD passes Manning threw in December of 2013 for the Denver Broncos at the age of 37?
Nineteen, on the way to the single-season record for TD passes (55), plus the single-season passing yards record (5,477). He also has the most career TD passes (539) and most career passing yards (71,940).
He won his fifth MVP Award in 2013 and, of course, capped the career with his second Super Bowl triumph a few weeks ago. We can debate who the best quarterback of all time is, but we can’t have the conversation without “Peyton Manning” being mentioned over and over.
And yet the most intriguing aspect of Peyton Manning, big picture, might not be what he did on the field – great as it was. Or for the haters, the allegations against him.
A now two-decades-old accusation from a female trainer at UT that Manning was guilty of more than pranking a teammate in her presence seems lame given the trainer’s long personal resume of bizarre, even paranoid, behavior.
Asked about it during his retirement press conference, Manning said he found it sad some people “don’t understand the truth and the facts.” He then called on his humor, which has served him as well as his reading of defenses: “This is a joyous day, this is a special day, and like Forrest Gump said, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’”
Whether he eventually will be forced to say more about allegations from an Al Jazeera documentary that suggests he used human growth hormone while healing from neck surgery is unknown, but he has claimed innocence here, too.
And let’s also be clear about HGH and steroids in football as opposed to PEDs in baseball or Olympic sports or, yes, women’s professional tennis.
The use and abuse of PEDs in pro football is so far past commonplace as to be beyond any kind of practical or even moral policing. If you doubt that, stand next to an NFL player who does not use his foot to make his living. And then try and tell yourself that the guy is clean.
There may be rare exceptions, but it’s very doubtful any of them ever blocked for Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or for Joe Montana or Dan Marino.
Manning walks away a few days shy of his 40th birthday. In NFL years, he is ancient. But he could also have more life ahead than behind.
So what’s next?
“I’m totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet,” he said. “Life is not shrinking for me. It’s morphing into a whole new world of possibilities.”
Everything from TV work to coaching to being a general manager like the Broncos’ John Elway. Everything from more acting to one day owning an NFL team, to whatever else is out there yet to cross his mind.
In any case, it’s not like Peyton Manning has to call one post-career play and stick with it. Even without the helmet and shoulder pads, he can always make his read and audible into a better play.