Tag Archives: Peyton Manning

For Peyton, his timing was perfect as always

Imagine grabbing a football with two hands while you coordinate ten other players who cannot move a second too early. If the count is wrong, it’s a penalty. Then take carefully measured steps backwards while watching your teammates run in the opposite direction. Take too many steps, and you’re too far out of the pocket. Take too few, and the linemen overrun you. Look over each receiver running his route. If you look at one for too long, then a linebacker will watch the ball right into his hands. Look at too many receivers, and another defender will hit you from behind. Then throw the ball, in a manner perfected only after countless practice reps that measure exactly where the wide receiver will be at that instant in time. Throw it too early, and the safety is taking the ball the other way. Throw it too late, and the ball goes behind the receiver, and you’re the quarterback that missed the throw. Want to get it exactly right? Timing is everything. Peyton Manning is a master of timing. His snap counts, his mechanics, and his throws were all perfected with the technical and meticulous quality of a symphony conductor. Because of timing, now is exactly the right time for Peyton Manning to retire.

Not because he has won “only” two Super Bowls. Frankly, saying “only” in any sentence referring to the Super Bowl is ridiculous. So many quarterbacks spend an entire career trying to lead their team to one Super Bowl. Peyton plated in four. Plus he just shed the label of having won fewer than his brother Eli. Surely, his critics will certainly be quick to mention Tom Brady’s four victories, but Brady also lost twice in the big game and he was an ill-timed-pass-turned-interception away from being 3-3 (which suddenly doesn’t sound as good). Besides, players don’t win Super Bowls; teams do. Although the quarterback usually has the greatest impact on his team’s success, a Super Bowl record is not the most representative marker of an individual’s career. So lay off Peyton for settling for only 2 championships (else Dan Marino and Jim Kelly have something to say about that).

Not because his statistics leave any doubt. The most prolific passer in the history of the game, Manning’s records for yards, touchdowns, and MVP awards span a career simply unmatched in ability and longevity. Another couple seasons might have put him in striking distance of 600 touchdowns or 80,000 passing yards, two milestones inconceivable at the beginning of a career. But Manning’s accomplishments have already spoken volumes about his career; he certainly doesn’t need a few more numbers to state his case for posterity.

Not because we doubt his resolve. Much was made of his path to recovery following multiple neck surgeries that ultimately ended his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. If he had retired then, we would have said the same great things about his career, just four years earlier. But Manning still wanted to play, and began anew with the Denver Broncos. After an unquestionably demanding and extensive rehab, Manning returned to prove he could once again play at the highest level. A record setting 2013 season capped off an amazing return from injury, even at age 37. Two seasons later he dealt with plantar fasciitis that sidelined him for a few games, but returned late in the season to make just the right plays en route to ensuring a playoff #1 seed, victories over Pittsburgh and New England, and a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. It took more than talent for this type of comeback. For every play on the field or story in the media, there were hundreds of practice hours, dozens of reps, and all the work behind the scenes that brought Manning back to the pinnacle of football.

Today in sports, we hear about an athlete’s “prime” years: the time when one’s physical capabilities are highest and one can maximize his career potential. It’s a window that seems to get shorter and shorter, with the next generation bursting on the scene earlier than ever. Age and injuries may eventually derail (or at least slow down) most careers; given these physical limitations, conquering the mental game is the true test of competitive greatness. When it comes to the mental game, Peyton has undeniably been the best. His memory for every formation, route, pattern, and play is unbelievable. The mental game is about preparation, about focus, about timing. And Peyton has proven himself the master of timing. Manning, nearing age 40, has already dealt with injuries. No one doubts his toughness, but his body may not be able to withstand the grind and physicality of a long season. So for Peyton, this is his time. Not because he has lost the drive to excel or love for the game. He made it to the top, had to start all over, and then got back there again. And his timing, whether hitting his receiver on a crossing route or bidding farewell as a Super Bowl champion, could not be more perfect.

So why is it the perfect time? Because while every athlete gets older, not everyone achieves the mental fortitude that enables success at the highest level for such a long career: the willingness to perfect every technique, the resolve to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, and the discipline to show up day after day to practice over and over until the game exists as an extension of one’s subconscious. Peyton Manning is nowhere near the physical ability of his early career. However after 18 years, he has definitively proven that he has conquered the mental game, the last and greatest accomplishment of succeeding as a competitive athlete. He has conquered the game, and he has won. He has nothing else to prove. As Peyton said during his retirement press conference, “18 is a good number.” Now it’s clear, 18 years was the right time. Because after 18 years, no one has done it better than number 18.  AN

This article was concurrently published at NoCoastBias.com on March 12, 2016.

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A Tale of Two Picks

A draft pick can change a franchise. In 1970 the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Terry Bradshaw first overall, and he led them to 4 Super Bowl victories. The same for Denver’s top pick in 1983 (John Elway, who won 2 Super Bowls), and for Dallas’s in 1989 (Troy Aikman, 3). Sometimes the top pick leaves you wondering (Jamarcus Russell, 2007). Others look differently with time, such as in 1994, when the number 1 pick Dan Wilkinson was selected one above Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. The draft is an exercise in prophecy, complete with the impossible task of predicting the future, and waiting for the inevitable realization that perhaps every “mock draft” was utterly wrong. As soon as the names are called, the wheels are set in motion once again. Enter 2012.

To understand the intrigue of the 2012 draft, one must first consider the draft from 14 years prior, when the Indianapolis Colts selected a quarterback from the University of Tennessee named Peyton Manning (after a fortunate decision to pass on their other option Ryan Leaf). That draft pick set off a decade of Manning-led victories in Indianapolis, many seasons of at least 10 wins, MVPs, records, and trips to 2 Super Bowls (which perhaps would have been more if not playing at the same time as the one of the best Patriots dynasties at the time). Manning would be the QB in Indianapolis as long as he wanted to play, and the Colts would be in the hunt for the championship every year, everything according to plan.

Yet in the the fall of 2011, multiple necks surgeries forced Manning to miss an entire season. Suddenly the Colts weekly record was turned upside down. Losses piled up. The offense struggled to score at all. Any “tanking” talk was mitigated by the realization that they seriously could just be playing that poorly. The Colts limped to a 2-14 record, coach Jim Caldwell was out, and suddenly the Colts found themselves back at the top (of the draft, that is). A different era, but the same question.

14 years before, the Colts hit the jackpot choosing Manning over Leaf, and were now faced with the difficult choice of selecting Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Luck, an architecture student from Stanford, had eschewed the NFL the previous year (when the Carolina Panthers held the top pick, and instead selected Cam Newton) and completed his degree prior to graduation. Widely regarded as a top NFL-caliber passer, he was known for his methodical approach to calling plays and managing and offense. RGIII carried one of the most exciting playmaking abilities all the way to his Heisman Trophy selection, showcasing his ability to run and pass at a high level. These two players were all but certain to go one-two in the draft, but which one would be selected first? The St. Louis Rams, who held the second pick, received a handful of players and other picks, from the Washington Redskins, who would thus take whichever player the Colts would leave behind. But even before draft day, the Colts had their own decision to make regarding the man who had put their franchise on the map for the past decade. There was no guarantee that Manning would be able to return to playing shape, let alone his MVP form. There was the option to re-sign Manning and draft Luck or another player, or perhaps trade the number 1 pick. Ultimately Manning was not re-signed. He offered a heartwarming speech of gratitude to the Indianapolis fans, and looked to start the next step in his career. But that’s only half the story. The question remained whether to draft Luck or RGIII.

College football is a dynamic game. Dual-threat players are exciting, and they win. Vince Young, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton all won championships via the run/pass combo that opposing defenses could not answer. Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel won Heisman Trophies with both passing and rushing stats to back up their candidacies. But the NFL is a different game. Defensive linemen are stronger, and linebackers are faster. Today’s game is shifting to maximize the impact of the best pocket passers. Every time a QB leaves the pocket, the risk for injury increases. In the college game, rosters are stacked with multiple recruits that each learn the offense. This year’s Ohio State is starting a third-string quarterback (all 3 are dual-threat QBs) in the Sugar Bowl. Pro rosters do not have that luxury. No team can afford to carry multiple Pro-Bowl quarterbacks, solely for insurance. Given the choice between a pocket-passing and option-running quarterback, the best decision is to select the pass-first quarterback who is mobile enough to keep plays alive with his feet, but will not subject himself to unnecessary injury risk.

For Luck and RGIII, neither has emerged into the superstar role quite yet. But the Colts once again clearly made the correct choice at the number 1 pick. Luck has won 10 games in each of his first 3 seasons, has twice been selected to the Pro Bowl, and has engineered some of the best comeback and game-winning drives. RGIII’s exciting first year led him to Rookie of the Year honors and a playoff appearance, leading many to consider he and Luck to be following a similar career trajectory (and some wondering if the Colts should have selected RGIII instead). But injuries and surgery have halted his progress. His benching this season and strained relationship with his coach only further cast doubt on his role in the NFL.

Two drafts picks, two franchises, and a number of ripple effects that will carry for at least decade. Luck and RGIII certainly aren’t going anywhere, but they’ve started to go in different directions. We’ll see where they end up. Besides, one of their QB peers already became the first to win a Super Bowl (and Russell Wilson was selected 73 picks after that pair).  AN