Peyton Manning is having a Huck Finn moment. He is attending his own funeral. Watching the mourners bury his career in the ground. Hearing the eulogies of how important he was to everyone. The irony that his coach's name is Jim shouldn't be lost either. And Peyton might be loving every minute of it.
Everyone wants a Huck Finn moment. Schools give out writing assignments where students are instructed to write their own obituary. It's part writing assignment and part psychology assignment. Who hasn't had a moment of, "They'll all miss me when I'm gone"? In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey goes so far as to wish he was never born. We get to see a world without his deeds and awesome stammering abilities.
But without Clarence to guide the way, the vast majority of people enter the great unknown completely blind to what the world will be like without them. Not Manning. He knows.
For the common fan, football isn't life. The coming season is viewed with excitement and hope. For a few weeks every team has a shot. But take football away and most of us would get along just fine.
The players are another story entirely. You see it in the devotion it takes to give your body day in and day out to a punishing game. Players have health issues post-career. They find themselves adrift financially and seemingly lost. In the worst-case scenario, seen all too much recently, they die at a young age. So yes, it is more than just a game to them. It is livelihood and life.
So here is Manning, watching a team he has carried for 13 years die a slow death without him. A perennial playoff team left hapless after the loss of just one player. Peyton's injury has given him a front row seat to his teams demise. Life without Peyton in the huddle is bad—historically bad.
Yet we all have an ego. Even a great team player like Manning. He is aware of his place in the pantheon of great NFL quarterbacks. Most assuredly he has heard the talk, though in jest, that he should get a few MVP votes. Just as with George Bailey, the world is a much worse place without him. The proud Indianapolis Colts have turned into a sullen group from Pottersville.
So does he secretly enjoy it?
Is there a part of Peyton Manning that smiles seeing his worth proved without ever stepping foot on the field? Every time Curtis Painter throws an interception then takes his helmet off to reveal his He-Man hair cut, does Peyton's ego swell with pride? The Colts are a car that only he can start.
But with any ego trip comes a trap. If the Colts continue their historic plunge, Peyton's replace-ability will be tested. Andrew Luck is without question the best quarterback prospect to enter the draft since Peyton himself. Manning may soon find himself in a situation where not only does he have a front row seat to his and the Colts demise but also their rebirth.
You only live one NFL life. Peyton Manning may enjoy the final few months of his watching his own burial.