Friday, January 1, 2010


The National Football League playoffs are upon us and, as usual, my team—the Chicago Bears—isn’t in them. In a weird season made no less weird by their upset win over the Vikings last Monday night, the Bears went from hopeful to hopeless in about 6.4 seconds. It’ll take a smarter person than I to figure out that bunch. Also smarter than Jerry Angelo or Lovie Smith, I fear.

But the NFLers will soldier on for a while, leaving open the question of a rooting interest for those of us whose favorites have been sent home. My solution is two-fold: I’ll root for the teams I bet on, and for the Indianapolis Colts.

The second of those criteria requires explanation. I have no history with the Colts and, although I’ve enjoyed Shapiro’s Delicatessen there many times, no great affection for its home base of Indiana-No-Place. The reason I like them can be summarized in two words: Peyton Manning.

By me, Manning is the best at what he does, which is play quarterback. I can’t say with confidence that he’s the best ever, because the likes of Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham and Sid Luckman did their best work before I was paying attention. But I can say he’s the best I’ve seen, and that’s saying quite a lot because I’m quite old. I love the guy— in a properly masculine way, of course.

Previous to Manning’s blossoming I’d been undecided in the best-QB department. The best passing arms I’d seen belonged to Sonny Jurgensen and Joe Namath; both could put the ball any place, any time. The best at getting the job (winning) done howsoever was Joe Montana. While the scrawny ex-Notre Damer might not have been the perfect model for a QB statue, no opponent’s lead was safe with him on the field.

Manning, though, throws like Sonny and Joe N. and wins like Joe M., and is statuesque besides. At 6-foot-5 and 230 or so pounds, he’s the exemplar of what a quarterback should look like, and he makes good use of every inch and pound.

Ordinarily, a bunch of statistics would go here to help prove my point. I’ll let you off with a few: Manning has passed for at least 4,000 yards in 10 of his 12 pro seasons and annually throws twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, and his Colt teams have won more than twice as many games as they’ve lost. It hasn’t mattered much who his receivers have been. In his early days in Indy he and Marvin Harrison formed football’s best pitcher-catcher partnership. Now Harrison is gone and Manning is throwing mostly to Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, no problem.

Manning is more than just an arm. Although he looks kind of klutsy afoot and almost never runs on purpose, he’s also rarely sacked, which indicates that he’s fairly agile. His durability is attested to by the fact that’s he’s never missed a start. The NFL is the world’s most coach-driven entity, but Colt coaches apparently give him exceptional latitude when it comes to calling or changing plays; hey, all that barking and gesturing he does at the line of scrimmage must amount to something. I’d like it better if he’d kneel down and draw a play in the dirt once in a while, but today’s football fields don’t lend themselves to that sort of thing.

My boy Peyton has a pleasing off-field image as well. His persona in his many TV ads is that of a half-smart country boy, but although this clashes with his on-field accomplishments he brings it off well. He’s hosted Saturday Night Live, no mean standup feat, and his “commercial” mocking the NFL’s syrupy ads for United Way—in which he knocks kids down with bullet passes and then berates them for performing poorly— not only is a classic but also showed his ability to mock himself. You’ve never seen Tiger Woods do that.

It’s possible that Manning could pull a Tiger and wind up in the tabloid headlines in an unflattering way. The internet is full of rumors that he and Ashley, his wife of eight years, are headed for Split City. It’s been observed that, unlike many high-profile players’ wives, Ashley Manning rarely attends Colts’ games, or, at least, is rarely photographed doing so.

But maybe there’s a good explanation for that. Maybe she’s a pacifist, or a Tom Brady fan.

He must have some.

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