The Peyton Manning Problem: It's Not the Man, It's His Fans

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The Peyton Manning Problem: It's Not the Man, It's His Fans

Although I won't pretend I was rooting for them, I'm almost glad the Indianapolis Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday.

For one thing, there is no good reason to dislike Peyton Manning.

He overmarkets himself and has terrible body language for a leader when the heat is on. I don't totally buy the "aww, shucks" humility he hawks to the public. But none of the above rises to the level of transgression. Each is a mere irritant; the same is true even when they're accumulated.

Overall, the dude appears to be one of sports' sincere "good guys." He's an elite quarterback and deserves to be remembered as such instead of as a "could've been." As in, Manning "could've been" the best QB of all time if his teams didn't stumble so frequently on the biggest stages.

Peyton's Posse doesn't want to hear it, but—fair or not—that's the fate that awaits their boy unless he turns Saturday into a trend. Trust me, my favorite signal caller of all time is Steve Young. (Damn you, Dallas Cowboys!)

Consequently, we all should be rooting for the Colts' quarterback to clean up that ugly mess he calls a playoff record.

But not all of us are.

Which brings me to the actual reason for my pseudo-happiness: I knew there would be a bunch of "I love Peyton Manning" articles in the wake of the triumph completely distorting the situation—which there were—and that would allow me to prove a point.

Many of us root against Manning because his blindly faithful in the stands and behind microphones make any iota of success from the middle Manning brother intolerable.

They use every bit of sunshine to sing Manning's praises while inventing absurdities to ignore every dose of gloom.

For instance, anyone who saw Indy's divisional playoff game knows the most outstanding element in victory was the Colts' defense. It was punishingly suffocating and never allowed the Ravens any hope of entering the contest—every step forward was followed by 30 yards in the other direction courtesy of Dwight Freeney, Raheem Brock, and company.

Alternatively, Peyton Manning was good and efficient, but he wasn't spectacular.

The big man completed 30 of 44 passes for 246 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. There was a second interception called back for pass interference, as the pass interference created the pick because the receiver was essentially tackled prior to ball arrival. You can't argue the flag wiped out a "mistake" because the flag created it.

Along the way, he overthrew a couple of receivers, but he generally tossed his usual accurate ball to relatively open targets.

The one exceptional play Manning authored featured a gnarly hit by Ravens' defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. The freight train came straight up the middle, so Manning was staring the locomotive right in the eyes. But he didn't flinch or crumple prematurely to the ground (on this occasion).

Instead, the pride of Indianapolis delivered a nice ball to his intended target.

Not only that, he shook off a dangerous shot right under the shoulder of his throwing arm like it wasn't no thang. Those are the hits that can wreak havoc on AC joints, so give the hombre behind center his due.

Nevertheless, the Indianapolis defense did the heavy lifting.

Yet Manning fans (like Dan Dierdorf during the game—do you think he got that lisp sucking up to Peyton?) will tell you he led the team to victory, he inspired his troops, blah, blah, blah.

That's fine—it's typically the line trotted out before the winning quarterback, and I wholly endorse the sentiment.

The problem comes when the Colts lose.

Those same voices will suddenly be screaming about football being a team game. About how no single player can carry his team to the Promised Land. About how it can't be Manning's fault since he is but one mortal.

Uh, what happened to all that heroic inspiration and heraldic prose?

Gone and replaced by a double standard—when the team wins, it's all Manning, all the time. When the team loses, it's a wave of the hand and "this isn't the leader you're looking for."

Homers want special rules applied to the object of their obsession.

You can see the delusion at work in almost every argument backing Peyton Manning as the greatest thing since sliced bread (also known as Joe Montana).

Example?

His followers will tell you that the playoff performances are only a small part of what defines a quarterback and that individual statistics tell the purer story.

See, Manning will own every conceivable passing record known to the record books before his career is over; he already has most of them. Naturally, numbers become the more accurate measuring stick for someone who wants to justify Manning's alleged place atop the podium.

Despite their tendency to lie.

What measure of greatness is, say, a meaningless fourth quarter touchdown pass to a tight end in the waning moments of a divisional playoff blowout? Or how about a perfect passer rating against the worst team in the league in Week 12?

In contrast, there are no hollow W's in the postseason.

Each victory brings that player and team closer to the ultimate goal of every athlete—to win a championship. Thus, each conquest gets harder than the last as the dream becomes more and more of a reality.

The degree of difficulty that befouls the playoffs is why the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game have always been measured by their success in the bowels of the furnace.

Except, apparently, Peyton Manning.

Homers want special rules applied to the object of their obsession.

Or what about the notion that passing yards and touchdowns are more accurate reflections of the individual?

Based on my rudimentary understanding of football, the QB needs at least five blockers and has as many as five targets. That's a whole lotta cooperation generating an "individual" statistic.

The truth is, nothing in the game of football is purely an individual achievement. Yes, the athlete taking the snap and throwing the ball has more influence on the stats, but he has more influence on the outcome of the game, too.

Only the chucker and center touch the ball every offensive play, and the center has no decision to make with the pigskin.

This is why it takes a mixture of both numerical glory and the real thing to become the greatest of all time. Unless you're trying to jam Manning into the mantle.

Homers want special rules applied to the object of their obsession.

You can observe it elsewhere—his adherents will tell you Manning's struggles in the postseason can be traced to a bad defense and lack of running game (both true). They'll tell you how incredible he is because he calls his own plays (also true).

They won't tell you that all three also contribute heavily to his plethora of regular season passing accomplishments.

The double-talk and self-delusion gets a wee bit tiresome after a while.

And each Colts victory brings more and more of the stench.

Yep, we all should be rooting for Manning to scorch his way to another Super Bowl title and finally put the skeptics out to pasture.

Unfortunately, his incessant homers won't let us.

Sad, but true.

 

**www.pva.org**

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