The 2011 NFL season could be featured as a ride at an amusement park under the same name. All of the different twists and turns and ups and downs provided the league, owners, players and fans with a roller coaster ride for the ages. From the lockout to Tom Brady’s last-second heave in Super Bowl XLVI, the NFL proved why it is, in fact, king of the four major North American sports.
Amidst all of the letdown and excitement, there was one story that overshadowed the league—one that no one saw coming, and, quite frankly, no one was remotely prepared for. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts.
After starting 227 consecutive games, leading his team to countless success, and winning four League MVP Awards, Peyton Manning was sidelined with a neck injury that I still think no one completely understands.
From the outset, there has been so much confusion as to what the injury actually is, the procedures done to correct it and the timetable for a potential return. Assuming all goes as planned, and according to his team of doctors, we should see No. 18 back on the field to start a new streak in Week 1 of the 2012 season. We just don’t know what uniform he will be donning.
Along with Manning’s eventual return to the field comes the fact that his name will undoubtedly be thrown into the mix for 2012 Comeback Player of the Year (CPOY)—an award that, after all of the accomplishments that he’s amassed, could represent his greatest triumph of all. To return to the field healthy and able to lead his team could be the icing on the cake to the stellar career that he is longing for.
Sure there are other players that are just as deserving for the CPOY based on the criteria for the award. Names that come to mind are Jamaal Charles, Mario Williams and possibly Randy Moss – if he is indeed signed.
But with what is at stake, the severity of the injury, what he meant to the Colts, the level of player we are talking about, and maybe most importantly, the emotional connection that the league and fans have with Manning, he should, by simply staying healthy, be the runaway winner of the award.
I am certainly not discounting the other candidates. They are all stars in this league, are very important to their respective teams and most certainly have something to prove, but Manning is on an entirely different level.
The news of him being medically cleared the week of the Super Bowl pushed even the Super Bowl onto the back-burner. There are few players in the history of the league that could get away with this, and Manning is indeed one of them. He has been the primary attention-grabber within the league since his neck injury was announced and will be leading news all the way through the end of next season.
Being cleared medically was leading news. How the Indianapolis Colts will handle their relationship going forward with him will be leading news. Whichever team acquires him and how they go about doing so will be leading news. How he responds and adapts to that team will be leading news. And most importantly, his health and results in 2012 will be leading news. You get the picture, right?
Can you imagine any one of the previously mentioned players garnering this much attention? When both Jamaal Charles and Mario Williams take their first snaps of the season it will be but a mere footnote in the landscape of the entire league. Randy Moss will undeniably receive tons of media hype, but not near enough to bump Manning off the lead line.
These players will not only have to stay on the field in 2012, but they will need to have seasons that will not soon be forgotten to keep Manning from winning the CPOY. Does Jamaal Charles have 2,000 yards in him? Does Mario Williams have 22 sacks in the tank? Or do you see Randy Moss duplicating his record-breaking 2007 season?
I am emphatically leaning towards "no", and that is exactly what it will take to knock Manning out of the pole position as Comeback Player of the Year in 2012.
What it will all boil down to is health. If able to play, he will start 16 games for the team that gambles on him.
The Colts were left in shambles after Manning went down, which indicates just the type of player he can be for whatever team he plays for. And with just an average healthy season, Manning is all but a lock for the award.
What makes it ironic is that the most recent sure bet that the NFL has seen is that Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, eventually replacing none other than yours truly, Peyton Manning.