BY MATTHEW ROSS
PEYTON MANNING – THE MOST DISRESPECTED LEGEND EVER?!
He has won countless awards. He holds many NFL records. He has a Super Bowl championship ring. He is a model citizen and family man. And yet, Peyton Manning may very well be the most disrespected athlete in professional sports today. Everywhere you read, there’s something about how Peyton Manning has lost two Super Bowls, or how he is simply a regular season player. The continued downplaying of all that he has accomplished and all that he is, to me, is a major injustice.
The son and brother of professional football quarterbacks, Peyton Manning was a blue chip prospect the moment that he stepped foot on a Louisiana football field in his youth. He went on to set records at every level that he played and was taken as the highest player in his draft class. After a tough first season, Peyton Manning then went on to become one of the most consistent and cerebral quarterbacks that the game has ever seen. And yet, critique and disrespect have dogged him at every turn.
Instead of revelling in the lofty heights he achieved and revolutionary preparedness that he brought to the position, fans and the media have instead taken the opportunity to tear down Manning at every turn. Whether it’s comparing his Super Bowl ring count to Tom Brady, or pointing to his sub .500 playoff record, many observers research and find any and every negative they can as it relates to Manning. Forget for a moment that Brady hasn’t been to the big game in a decade, or that the game of football isn’t won or lost by one player on a consistent basis, what is it about Manning’s regular season exploits that people hate so much? It’s maddening.
While Brett Favre gets a pass for sexting images of his junk, and Brady impregnates two women at the same time, Manning raises his kids with an old school, wholesome brand of family love, and single-handedly kept the Colts from leaving Indianapolis.
Manning’s charitable efforts are well documented and impactful. In fact, his entire off-the-field persona and lifestyle are so under the radar that people take him for granted. I wonder if Bengals or Cowboys fans would appreciate a perennial all-star that is NEVER in trouble with the law or prone to saying anything controversial or antagonistic. The greatest student of the game that the NFL has ever seen, Manning changed the way that quarterbacks audible at the line of scrimmage and work with wide receivers in the offseason. That’s right. He actually improved how other quarterbacks play the game. Incredible. And how about how Manning isn’t even sufficiently admired for having the drive and perseverance to overcome four neck surgeries and numbness in his throwing hand, while in his mid-thirties, mind you. Astounding.
Fast forward to this year’s Super Bowl debacle, where Manning’s Broncos were shredded by the Seahawks. It was pure domination in every sense, a real embarrassment to the Broncos organization. Notice how I didn’t say it was embarrassing for Manning? That’s because it wasn’t. While Denver’s defense was exposed as not being tough enough, and its offensive line proved to be rattled versus the imposing Seattle defense – Manning had nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, while it wasn’t material to the outcome, Manning actually set the Super Bowl record for completion percentage. Amazing. Even in defeat, the man did something special.
So what is this vitriol that many have for Manning? After all, this is a guy that answers most of his own fan mail and remembers the names of stadium staff years after last seeing them. I believe the answer lies in our society’s downright pessimism. We don’t think we are allowed to believe in sports heroes anymore. We have become so jaded and suspicious of everyone, that the only thing we believe in anymore are championships.
But while Dan Marino and Jim Kelly never won NFL titles, they are each lauded for their on-field accomplishments, not torn down at every turn. Marino set many records in his day and was a media darling. Kelly was hardnosed and led a small market to national prominence. But neither achieved half of what Manning has – both as a man and as an athlete.
I have a message to those that continue not to believe in Peyton Manning. He is the last of a dying breed. He is John Wayne and Johnny Unitas rolled into one. He is everything to everyone. And he is also nearing the end of a spectacular, one-in-a-generation career. Appreciate him. Respect him. Know that when he is retired, you will never see anyone quite like him in professional sports. Basically, don’t wait until he is old and white-haired, sitting in a rocking chair somewhere, to give him credit and the adulation that you didn’t give him when he was actually achieving it all.
Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host. Follow @tsnmatthew.