I watched him—Peyton Manning. I watched him at the press conference. Even though I’ve never seen him play, I watched him intently. I didn’t need a great knowledge of the NFL to understand something significant was happening.
My takeaway from watching Peyton Manning: How you say goodbye matters, especially when you’ve given a majority of your adult life to one team.
But it wasn’t just saying goodbye to the Colts that mattered. It’s where he goes next, how much he gets to play, and how he ultimately says goodbye to the sport that made him—the sport that he made better.
It matters how you say goodbye at the very end.
Watching him, I thought of professional wrestling. A good, well-mannered guy who gave his all in one place—I thought of Sting.
The man called the Franchise of World Championship Wrestling. The wrestler that, if you started watching wrestling in the last 12 years, you know little about. Watching tapes won’t cover it; watching TNA will certainly not suffice.
Sting is the wrestler who won the Starrcade 89 tournament to determine who would carry WCW into the next decade. Strange and ironic—when they picked Sting they had no way of knowing he’d be the guy to truly carry them into the next decade, their final decade.
Most things change in wrestling. The crowned are uncrowned, the champion dethroned, the icon ended, but the marriage between Sting and the final decade of WCW, born in 1989, was one without divorce. It was ‘til death do us part and Sting would be with that same company, as its franchise, until the day it died 11 years after the marriage.
Sting would remain consistently, unlike those he battled at the top.
In 1990, Sting traded the world title with Ric Flair. One year later, Ric Flair departed WCW for the WWF. In 1992, Sting won the title from Lex Luger. In January of 1993, Lex Luger became the WWF’s Narcissist. In 1992, both Ron Simmons and Vader became WCW champions. Vader would dominate into late 1993. In 1996, both Ron Simmons and Vader jumped to the WWF.
From 1990-1993, any wrestler not named Sting who touched the WCW title jumped to WWF!
Consider the contrast. Many who jumped from WCW to WWF would become failures or mid-carders, whereas most who jumped from WWF to WCW were hotshotted to the top by Eric Bischoff.
Vince McMahon never quite knew how to use most of the WCW guys. (That or he never cared.)
When the Monday Night Wars ended and Vince was the last man standing, Sting had a choice. He could go to the WWF or he could go away.
He chose to go away, and I think it was the exact right decision.
It took class. It took loyalty. It took looking back and knowing that guys like Flair and Luger, who enjoyed differing amounts of success in WWF, both came back to WCW within a couple of years. Luger came back at the urging of Sting. It took understanding that Vader became, in the WWF, the guy who declared that he was a big fat piece of sh-t. It took remembering that, while Eric Bischoff preferred WWF guys to his own WCW guys, Vince McMahon spent most of WCW’s years pretending the company didn’t exist.
When Vince presented the WWE versus WCW angle, it wasn’t the real WCW. I knew it. Sting knew it. Anyone who watched WCW knew it. WCW was Sting, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, the Steiner Brothers and, later, Hogan, Hall, Nash and Savage.
That was its heart.
Rather than go to WWE and risk being misused and misrepresented, Sting went away. Ultimately, he’d go to TNA, partly because it was WCW-lite.
I remember one of his first interviews back. Maybe it was his first. The fans chanted “You’ve still got it,” and I watched it resonate with Sting that he truly did still have it. I heard the rise in his voice and felt the goose bumps on my own arms as I watched a man who was great once again realize and remember that he was.
It’s difficult to remember your own greatness when you don’t get a proper goodbye. When you watch the only company you worked for get buried, literally, and then, for years, by the commentary of your rival who has now become the victor.
It’s no wonder he went to TNA. He no doubt hoped he could raise a second Southern alternative to his former rival. He hoped, I’m sure, he could be remembered and say a proper goodbye.
Now, it’s a decade later. It’s clear TNA will not be that alternative. Certainly not in Sting’s time. And even if he gets a TNA goodbye, it will not be the kind he deserves.
The saddest part is Sting had a shot at his Peyton Manning finish.
The very thing Peyton Manning now hopes to do—go somewhere with an equal playing field and finish in greatness—Sting could have done last year with the WWE.
You remember the buzz, right?
Sting versus the Undertaker. Sting recently came out and said he was close to coming into WWE last year.
“Very, very close,” he said.
I am the guy who agreed with Sting for not going to WWE directly after the buyout. For not going last year, I think he made a grave mistake.
They would have watched him—Sting. Even though they may not have watched WCW, they would have watched him intently. They would not have questioned his age or who he was, but they would have taken interest in him. WWE would have benefitted in its sales of WCW merchandise, and Sting would have benefitted by going out on the grandest stage of them all.
He would have hit the Stinger splash from corner-to-corner. He would have beat his chest, cupped his mouth and howled. An arena of 70,000 might have howled back. If a cluster of fans chanting "you still got it" in the Impact Zone did something for him, what might it have done for him to stand on the grandest stage of them all?
What would it have meant to sit down with WWE and create a Best of DVD? What, finally, would it mean to go into the Hall of Fame as the Franchise of WCW and a former WrestleMania combatant?
I think it would have meant healing and completion.
I believe Vince and the WWE have changed a lot in the decade since WCW. They go out of their way to honor the former stars and give them the farewells they deserve.
I’m sure it was not an easy decision. He no doubt wondered if he could pull it off. I think he could have, but probably he’s waited too long now.
If there never is a WWE match or a final program for Sting, I think he will regret it.
I know I will.
Hell, I already do.