Peyton’s Last Dance

Oddsmakers and the sports media apparently have the fiftieth Super Bowl all figured out. The Carolina Panthers are young, fast, and hot. And with only one loss, the best team in the league. The Denver Broncos, headed by their ex all star John Elway, are a nice story, particularly with Peyton Manning in the twilight.

But it is his counterpart at quarterback, Cam Newton, who is projected to add another jewel to his crown, which includes titles at the junior college, NCAA, and now the NFL level. Toyota ought to drop tens of millions in word play ads in Sunday’s telecast, for their Camry model.

Newton’s crown does have a few thorns, namely his father reportedly bartering the son’s services to Mississippi State University for well into six figures some years back, but that’s another story.

Going into the game, there has been some under the table media hyperbole about the athletic of race, namely Newton’s, brought on by the star quarterback himself, retracted, retraced, enunciated, and apologized for by sundry talking heads. Again, that’s another story.

No doubt, in the private thoughts of underdog Denver’s coaches, this is great news. They much prefer the favorite’s thoughts and preoccupations to be about anything other than football. Any Distractions, Most Welcome.

Then again, it was just released that a Denver practice squad player, a cousin of Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, was sent home after a sting for possible involvement in a prostitution ring in San Jose. Oops.

The most compelling and critical matchup is Newton versus Denver’s brusque Orange Crush defense, specifically if and how the Broncos can contain Newton in the pocket. Sean Payton and the Saints know Newton well, having played him twice a year for five seasons. On ESPN before the conference championships, Coach Payton poignantly said in opposing Newton, do not let him roll right as that is his strength, and that’s when hell breaks loose for defenses. Indeed, if Newton is forced to operate in a box (more or less), the field shrinks, and his options and the split seconds quickly dwindle.

Panther tight end Gregg Olsen is an excellent receiver, the team’s best. But their wide outs have no future Hall of Famers. For example, Ted Ginn, Jr. can fly, is a threat on kick returns, but has lousy, unpredictable hands. A relatively contained Newton puts pressure on their passing game. Cam can throw just fine too though, his towering height allowing him to see over the top of linemen and ’backers being a big key to it. But Denver’s top flight defensive backs would immediately rise in stature.

The most important coach on the field Sunday evening will be Denver defensive coordinator (and ex Saint interim coach) Wade Phillips. It’s his playing field to level. Not for exotic schemes but in mixing up his handful of personnel packages and guessing right, the goal being to slow down Camry somewhat, have him take some unexpected turns.

In this scenario, the complexion of the game suddenly changes. Some silence would waft across the packed new wave stadium and in a hundred million living rooms, as fans scratch their heads and rethink how all this may play out. It would inevitably turn into a slugfest, but it is the Panthers who will have been knocked out of their auto pilot, dual threat rhythm.

Meanwhile, Mr. Manning, as he is called by some teammates almost half his age, has to figure out how to maintain possession and get his team some points. Also on ESPN, ex 49’er great Steve Young pointed out on film the reason he can’t throw for more than about 35 yards these days is because his right foot is shot, not allowing him to plant or follow through with his torso, sacrificing lots of torque on the ball.

Manning’s pitter patter in the pocket was especially evident in the first round elimination of the Steelers, though he did improve his footwork against the Patriots. But the deep ball, other than yards after the catch, is gone. Peyton will have to get rid of the ball real fast against the cat quick defense of the Panthers.

A.K.A. The Sheriff, he has always been much more fun to watch as an underdog. In his prime with Indianapolis, that was hardly ever the case. Countless times, opponents would get within a score of the Colts, needing to get the ball back as the game wound down. The former Newman Greenie would audible, have his way with defenses, runs and short passes that teased and bled opponents dry, to 00:00. He did it with such astounding regularity and precision it became something of a bore.

In the fourth quarter Sunday night, if Peyton is nursing a lead rather trying to attain one, the Bronx are in great shape.

In 2011 Manning underwent a cervical fusion surgery that seriously risked his long term health to play again. In now his fourth season in Denver, at age 39, it’s clearly time to count the blessings and hang ‘em up (though don’t put it past him to return, even if with another team. The Hollywood Rams are already making some noise about it.). Now he needs a hip replacement in the off season. It’s time. Father time is forever unbeaten.

The assumption is this his “last rodeo” as he aptly whispered it to Bill Belichik at midfield, and it’s impossible not to rewind and fast forward some flashes and images in this, now his (ironical jersey number) 18th season, 5 league MVP awards later. Indy owner Jim Irsay is already requesting he retire as a Colt.

Heisman Shaft?

After being all everything at the University of Tennessee, Manning returned for his senior year instead of electing to go pro. The Vols never got the NCAA title he so wanted until afterwards, and no small supplementing goal of his was to win the nation’s best player award. It went to Michigan defensive back Ron Woodson instead (who is coincidentally just retiring this year, from the Raiders), some hinting the deciding votes were clustered in a biased Northeastern and liberal press, not particularly enamored with Southern quarterbacks, and not excluding consideration of that four letter word that begins with “r” and ends with “e”. Kind of like some presidential election politics!

Peyton and dad Archie were seen leaving, or darting, from the ceremony ballroom, not particularly pleased.

Nemeses

It seems so long ago, but as Manning became a star, it took forever for the Colts to get by the Patriots in the regular and post seasons. The snow and Foxborough were a pair of teeth in this triple pronged piranha. Curiously, New England’s defensive domination largely stopped after they were caught red handed, cheating the league by Videogate, spying on opponents’ practices, stealing sideline signals.

Unlike some of the vanquished Rams years after their Super Bowl with New England, Peyton never retreated to that as an explanation.

Versus Number 12

In the league’s longest and most prolific historical rivalry by position, Tom Brady held the cumulative edge in 17 “head to head” contests, 11 to 6. However, Manning won 3 of 4 conference titles over Brady and the Pats, 2 in Denver.

Career Maker

Marvin Harrison was recently nominated for the Hall of Fame. He was a small, shifty wide receiver with good hands that ran precise routes. Though no speed burner, he and Manning as a duo were near the top of touchdown passes, all time. But let’s face facts, without Peyton, he was just another guy. There were numerous others who got to share the red carpet.

Field General II

Those old enough to be Colt fans of the franchise when they were in Baltimore as well couldn’t have gotten luckier in getting a cerebral successor to the great John Unitas, who defined field general for the QB position in the modern era.

Lamentably, after Johnny U’s death, Peyton was turned down by the league in wanting to wear black high top cleats, in memoriam. Inevitably the fear was that a precedent would be set for God knows what kind of attire requests, and for whom in the future. Precedent stinks, sometimes.

Drone

Manning put the capital “c” on cliché in most all press conferences and interviews. This is how he was raised, to say, do it right, stay away from controversy, in deference to the game, even if it put plenty of people to sleep. About the most aroused he has been in these was just recently, after some rumor news of HGH or performance enhancing drug use broke, those allegedly mailed to his wife. He was livid about her health privacy broken, and said he has known all about the rules for years.

Interestingly, he is fond of writing personal notes over digital, old school in his communications, that which includes team employees that are wild about him as a person, and appreciative fans.

Interception As Legacy?

Unless he throws a Hail Mary on the last play Sunday, Peyton may be remembered more for untimely picks than for any TD pass. When a rookie in 1998, Coach Jim Mora started him, threw him to the wolves right away, in an era when rookies mostly used to sit and learn. It took some time for Manning to throw more TD’s than interceptions.

No interception was more prominent than Tracey Porter’s Pick 6 that clinched the Super Bowl for Peyton’s hometown Saints. It wasn’t a bad throw really, Porter just read the Colt formation right from film study, and jumped it.

And his first season in Denver, the Broncos had a strong, balanced team. But Manning committed a quarterback’s Cardinal Sin in the playoff, that being rolling right and throwing left across the body, resulting in a turnover that suddenly ended a promising year.

Peyton is unblemished with interceptions thus far in this title run, but statistician analytic types predict he will throw at least one Sunday.

Curtains

In an unusual and lesser role for him, Manning (or QB Brock Osweiler) has not led the Bronx to this point, their stifling Orange Crush has. The result will test – hard – the traditional mantra about defense winning championships.

Just two years ago Peyton and Denver were trashed in the Super Bowl by a Seattle outfit with the same profile as ascending Carolina. The downer experience of that slaughter will benefit the core of the Bronco players this time around. And as formidable as Denver is defensively, a rerun of that scenario seems unlikely, that being the game out of reach before even being in hand. These Bronx do not resemble the 1990’s Buffalo Bills, who took turns in Super Bowls getting pounded by the Cowboys.

Who knows how this grand finale against Panther Power will turn out for Denver and #18, but the safest assumption is not as prognosticated. The Broncos cannot start slow, or they will get blown out of San Francisco, as far east as Omaha. To get here, the Panthers disposed of their last pair of foes by a combined score of 65 – 7, at the half.

These teams have not met in over 4 years. This half a century anniversary of the Big Game has the Football Gods’ hands intimated all over it. And whatever that may entail.

Manning will not leave the game winning more Super Bowls than losing them, so any juice about a must win on his last dance to justify or put an exclamation point on his career may be simple and orderly script, but is not apropos, or fair.

On the gridiron, adore him, like him, tired of or bored with him, even hating him, does not change that indisputably, Peyton Manning’s kind does not come along very often, and the game and entertainment of pro football will miss him. Sorely.

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4 thoughts on “Peyton’s Last Dance

  1. Bravo, Souls of the Saints!

    You threw a perfect spiral pass with your analysis.. no cheap shots or late hits. Not even a temptation to toss a red flag for a review.

    As you aptly point out, “Camry” is the engine that drives the Panthers. Keep him from revving the engines, and we will have a game on our hands well into the fourth quarter.

    I’m old school. I’m leaning toward the Broncos for many of the reasons you touched on in your superb preview. Manning has been good for the game. Carolina needs a little schooling, and the Panthers will have another opportunity.

    One thing you didn’t mention which I’d like your thoughts on is the pace of The Game. Unlike other televised matchups, as you know, the Super Bowl has to accommodate a number of costly commercials. I love the ads, but I think it’s hard for some teams to find a rhythm on the playing field. Do you think that benefits Denver and the Old Man? And allows Wade a chance to pull a few surprises.

    Either way, you captured quite eloquently what’s on the line this Sunday. It’s going to be quite a rodeo.

  2. Always good to hear from the esteemed Jim. No red flags from you is a cause celebre ! Good point, re the Ad Bowl. Do not know how many ticks are altered but has to benefit a 39 year old. And a certain TV watcher !

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