As the calendar turns to March, we are approaching the one-year anniversary of a pretty monumental day in the history of American professional sports.
One year ago Thursday, Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts, the organization by which he was drafted first overall in 1998 and was with for 14 seasons. During that time, he became arguably the best quarterback of his generation and put himself in with the top 10 players to ever play the position. The term "face of the franchise" has become a cliche in professional sports, but it was an unadulterated reality in Manning's case. He truly was the Indianapolis Colts.
But alas, after a bizarre neck injury caused Manning to miss the entire 2011 season, subsequently contributing to the Colts going 2-14 that season and earning the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, he suddenly became expendable. With the shining blue-chip Andrew Luck waiting in the draft and ready to play, it simply did not make sense to bring back a 36-year-old QB coming off injury and send the best QB prospect in years to the bench.
Let me make a disclaimer—I am not condemning what the Colts did. They did what they had to do. The situation in Indianapolis was as unique as a snowflake. Had the Colts wound up with any pick lower than second overall in the 2012 draft, they most likely would have kept Manning and traded the high pick for several lower picks to put some pieces around the aging star to give him one last chance at a run in his final years.
But that didn't happen. The Colts had the first overall pick, Luck fell into their lap, and here we are.
Having said that, allow me to take you back to the end of 2011. While it is easy to forget since so much time has elapsed, maybe you remember how bleak the outlook on Manning's career was.
Many people predicted he would embarrass himself in 2012, posting the worst stats since his rookie year and having to end a great career in shame.
Others predicted that his body would have the solidity of a chocolate eclair after a year on the couch, and he would suffer a career-ending injury on his first sack.
A friend of mine even predicted that he would retire in 2012 training camp, realizing the game passed him by.
Of course, we know this did not happen. Manning totally idiocized the pessimistic predictions, posting the best season of his wonderful career next to his legendary 2004 MVP performance. By notching eight yards per attempt, 37 TD passes to only 11 INT, and achieving a terrific 105.8 passer rating, Peyton made everybody forget the bleakness of his post-2011 outlook.
Okay, I am finally going to get to baseball now.
The Phillies can take a lot of optimism out of the Peyton Manning story. The 2012 Phillies were obviously decimated by injury. The problem with that squad wasn't only that Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay missed significant time. The big issue was that all three players' injuries ruined their performance on the field, with Utley putting up a slash line of .256/11/45, Howard going .219/14/56, and Roy Halladay putting up a 4.49 ERA with a 1.222 WHIP.
These bad 2012 seasons by the three cornerstone players on the team have pundits predicting they will face a very tough uphill battle with the Nationals and the Braves in 2013. The other two NL East teams are looked at as the young forces set to take their places at the table, while the Phillies are the broken-down old veterans who the game has passed by.
But, just as Peyton Manning disproved so many doubters, so can the Phillies.
Chase Utley can hit .280 with 25 HR.
Ryan Howard can hit 42 HR and knock in 130.
Roy Halladay can pitch 230 innings, put up a sub-3.00 ERA, and amass 200 strikeouts.
If one of these things happen, the Phillies could make that seven-game jump that would have been necessary to make the playoffs last year.
If two of these things happen, the Phillies can win 91-93 games, and be a legitimate threat for the NL East crown.
If all three happen, then the Nationals and the Braves be damned. The Phillies out-and-out win the NL East and are NL favorites for the World Series.
Do these things seem implausible? Maybe.
But how many people expected the 2012 Peyton Manning to put up a 105.8 passer rating a year ago today?