Hmmmm, where do I start?
Do I start with naming the countless records he holds? Or do I start with by highlighting his career with the Indianapolis Colts then proceed to his career with the Denver Broncos? Or do I start with the way he revolutionized the game of football?
Or do I just start with what today means to me?
I think that is a good place to start.
I am sad, ya’ll. For real. And I know that is not surprising to most. For weeks, I have tried to prepare myself for football without Peyton Williams Manning. I have wondered what it is going to feel like to not rush home to see him play. I have wondered what it is going to feel like to not post my traditional “PEYTON BOUT TO PUT IN WORK! HEEEEY!” status on Facebook throughout the season. I have wondered what it is going to feel like to not sit and listen to analysts talk weekly about the greatness of #18. Yeah, it is that serious.
See, for me Peyton retiring is not just the end of an era but is essentially the culmination of a career that I credit with raising my football fanaticism to a whole new level. Yes, I have been a football fan since the 80s. And yes I have been a fan of the 49ers since then and the Panthers since 93 but watching Peyton play provided me with a whole new appreciation for the game. No longer was it just a game but it became a display of the precise knowledge, tenacity and grit that it takes to survive and thrive on football’s biggest stage. In my opinion, no one, other than Jerry Rice, mastered the art of dissecting a defense, quite like Peyton.
To watch him work was art in action. It was as if his mind was created to do exactly what he did for 18 straight years: become more knowledgable than anyone else on the field and find a way to beat you with all that informaiton he had collected. Defenses knew they needed to stop him but they could rarely figure out how.
Watching him in action was fun. I love to see athletes who are fully committed to their craft enter into the realm of greatness. I love to see those athletes who just have “it” go out and dominate the competition over and over. I love to see athletes who truly love what they do experience joy in the moment. I see it in Serena. We used to see it in Tiger. And Peyton embodies it.
For 18 years, Peyton has been the source of so many great moments for so many including me, of course. It will always be difficult to pick a favorite but two moments stand out: the 18 point comeback he led against the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship game and the seven touchdown performance in the first game of the 2013 season. That was Peyton at his best.
As he trended on Twitter all day and well wishes and congratulations poured in from across the NFL community, I flashbacked to a couple of weeks ago where the talk about Peyton was much different. It revolved around not what he had done but what he was accused of doing. For weeks, I have been tagged on Facebook in posts and been questioned on Twitter about my thoughts. Up until now, I have been virtually silent. I needed time to process it all.
See, my love for Peyton is not just centered around what he does on the field but how he conducts himself off of it. For decades, he has been the walking definition of class personified in the sporting world. No temper tantrums, no scandals, no arrests, no in house scuffles, no parking tickets, shoot have we even heard him cuss? So imagine my surprise when the bombshell dropped after the Super Bowl that Peyton had been accused of sexual assault while in college at the University of Tennessee. I had heard about this particular incident where he allegedly mooned a teammate and accidentally mooned the Director of Health and Wellness, a female, at the same time. I heard nothing else about it so I had no reason to assume it was anything more than what was being reported. If that was the story, was it ok for him to do that? Absolutely not. Should there have been consequences? Absolutely.
Now the story that was being told was much different than what I had heard. Words that were being associated with Peyton were now sexaul assault, defamation, lies, cover up. Peyton? Peyton Manning? Wow. The more I listened and read, the more something seemed amiss. Still I was not sure how to feel about everything. Do I think Peyton put his genitals in the face of Dr. Jamie Naughright purposely? Um, yeah. Do I believe the University of Tennessee created culture where this was deemed acceptable? Looks like it. Do I think Peyton was wrong to discuss a matter, from his point of view, in an autobiography he wrote with his dad after signing a confidentiality agreement? Yes. Do I think there should have been consequences? Definitely. This whole story just reeks of the injustices women are made to suffer through in male dominated industries.
At the same time, I do believe people are capable of change. And I do believe that it is possible that the person Peyton was in 1996(when the alleged incident occurred) and 2003(when the book was released)is not the same person he is today. We all have done things we are not proud of. Maybe not the extent of what he is accused of doing but I know we all have skeletons we hope stay in our closet.
I do not know if we will ever find out what really happened. Do we deserve to know? Yes because if anything, Dr. Naughright deserves to have her name cleared, publicly, if the allegations are true. What I do know is that it changes nothing regarding what he did between the white lines. Whatever your thoughts are about him as a person should not cloud your vision about what he did for the game.
The game is going to miss #18. And it should. Players like him do not come around often. Just ask all the other teams who have been trying to locate a franchise quarterback for years. Cleveland Browns, anyone?
That is it, folks.
End of an era.
Thank you, Sheriff.
But I still need you to answers these unanswered questions.
P.S. How dope was it that ESPN’s Chris Mortensen was the one to break the story? Continue to send up prayers for Mort!