A new era has begun.
Welcome to the Mannification of the world as we know it. Football fans were sick of Peyton Manning before last Sunday; now that the golden boy’s got a big fat ring to go with all the other accolades that have been heaped upon his pale shoulders, be prepared for our future. All Peyton, all the time.
A few years ago, there was a quote that made sports fans chuckle whenever it was repeated. “I won at every level, except college and the pros.” The reason it was so funny was because it showed the speaker’s lack of awareness about what it truly was we found admirable about the teams that were able to win it all. Team sports were always so much more popular in this country than individual ones because of all that they stood for. The team being worth more than the sum of its individual components. We truly believed it took an entire roster, plus owners, coaches, managers, general managers, and, yes, even fans, to bring home a national title.
The quote stopped being funny when the man who said it, Shaquille O'Neal, won his first title with the Lakers.
Look at what happened to Dwayne Wade after Miami grabbed a title. My boy Tim Duncan may be a class act, but common knowledge says San Antonio would have remained a has-been without the former Demon Deacon on its roster. The Yankees were all Jeter. Would anyone outside of St. Louis give credit to anyone but Albert Pujols for their rings?
Basketball, it’s become expected. One man can turn a team from perennial losers to a genuine contender (see, Lebron, Cleveland; Gilbert Arenas, Washington). Two men? I can’t wait to see what Iverson and Melo do to Denver. The NBA ceased being about teamwork a long time ago, and the all elusive idea of chemistry means nothing –- Shaq and Kobe never got along, yet that didn’t keep them from racking up the titles for LA.
Football, though, football is a different game, and you can have all the talent in the world on your offensive line, but if your defense can’t stop the run, if your coaching staff can’t figure out when to throw that challenge flag and when to save the timeout, if your kicker gets the sweats, you still might go down.
And that’s what the casual fan has missed about the Indianapolis Colts.
You know what’s so great about this team? It’s as if they realized they don’t need Peyton Manning to be Peyton Manning to still win games. And really, Sprint’s favorite pitch boy did his best Ty Detmer impersonation through the last third of the regular season and into the first two rounds of the playoffs, losing to the lowly Texans and managing zero touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens. And you know why Indy won, and kept on winning? Because Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark kicked ass. Because Bob Sanders and the rest of the defensive stepped it up, and sloughed off their reputation as the men who made QBs like David Carr look good. Because the O line decided they weren’t going to be Peyton’s fall guys, not this year, and actually protect their somewhat immobile quarterback, despite the fact that no one asked them to shoot a MasterCard commercial. Because Adam Vinateiri did what he’d been doing for years, better than any other man at his position any where in football: his job. And because Tony Dungy was able to ignore the pundits and the critics and prove that he could coach as successfully when the games actually meant something as he could on a warm fall day inside a dome.
But you will hear none of that this week. And you’ll probably hear very little of it in the weeks and months to come. Instead, you’ll see one thing. Peyton at Disneyland. Peyton hoisting an MVP trophy. Peyton with his NFL quarterback father and his NFL quarterback brother, as if this victory was his destiny, and the rest of the National Football League was just waiting to finally hand it over to him.
You’ll hear Peyton called the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen. You’ll hear talk of them shining up his plaque in Canton for preparation for his first-ballot enshrinement upon his immediate retirement, five year rules be damned.
But rest assured: Peyton will transcend football. He’ll fulfill the monetary potential that every Madison Avenue pitch man has been salivating over since his first pass at Tennessee. With the ultimate team achievement now his, that word “team” will fall quickly away, and we will see Peyton everywhere. Hocking Cokes. Shilling burgers. Flying the friendly skies. Driving a Mini. Designing his own line of loungewear for Target.
You know it's coming. For years, they’ve been waiting for this. John Elway was too old, Brett Favre, too scruffy, Ben Roethlisberger, too green. They tried it with Tom Brady, but the man was too selective, too committed to the idea that he was one piece of a very large puzzle, going so far as to including his offensive linemen in one of his rare national ads.
Peyton’s already proven that he has no problem standing alone in the spotlight. He’s perfectly happy to be the solitary face of the NFL. The fact that the face is one of privilege, belonging to a boy raised within football royalty who never had a doubt that someone, anyone, would give Archie Manning’s boy a chance, is incidental.
Or perhaps it’s the entire point.
The thing is, the people who want your money, who need your money, have gotten their wish. A tall Southern white boy, gift-wrapped in white and blue and gold, and he’s going to sell you the world. His world.
Welcome to Peytonia, where myths transcend reality, and personality is bigger than team.
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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2.7.07 @ 9:15a
So...so... Payton Manning = George W. Bush?
2.7.07 @ 9:40a
The best thing that ever happened to Manning was his horrible first half against Kansas City, where he was able to weather a crap performance, change tactics and stop pressing for the big play, taking what the Chiefs gave, and the Colts managed to pull out the victory even with Peyton playing poorly and not putting up numbers.
I firmly believe that the switch finally went off and he allowed himself to sit back and play without feeling like he had to do it all.
My least favorite upcoming result of Manning's ring? That now, and especially later after he eclipses most of the records, he'll be placed ahead of Marino on the "Best QB Ever" lists. Marino would've had FIVE rings if he had a RB. Hell, Dominic Rhodes would've been a major upgrade!
2.7.07 @ 11:03a
Very keen eye for the difference between the de-teamifying of basketball and the same process in football. It takes a village to make a touchdown, people.
I hope Peyton follows in Shaq's footsteps and stars as a rapping genie in "Kazaam 2: The Kazaamanning." And only then will he go away.
2.7.07 @ 12:04p
I'm not sure this is a recent phenomenon. I'm a football dilettante, but I can remember as a kid getting the feeling that Joe Namath WAS football.
2.7.07 @ 12:26p
Of course it's not new. Advertisers can't put a bunch of players wearing helmets in commercials, or on magazine covers. They need faces. Successful, likable, good-looking faces. After the Colts victory, they've got 1 of the 3. 2 if you find him likable.
If only he were good-looking, he'd be the holy grail of spokesmen, like Michelle thinks Brady would be, if only he'd play ball. Everyone is looking for the next Michael Jordon of endorsements, and right now, Manning is the flavor of the month.
But this isn't a sports thing. It doesn't matter if Peyton plays football, basketball, baseball or soccer. So long as he's a recognizable winner with a good personality who doesn't mind selling his soul.