It kills me. It absolutely kills me to write this.
But the charade can’t go on any longer.
I guess everyone has to lose it eventually, but it never stops being sad. I’ll never forget watching Jordan score only 6 points against the Pacers as a Washington Wizard. Seeing Griffey fade into mediocrity was one of the saddest developments of the steroid era. Even the invincible Tiger Woods is just lacking something right now.
But when it’s your favorite guy from your favorite team, it’s not supposed to happen.
I blame myself, really. As a fan, whenever things don’t go your way, you trick yourself into thinking you had something to do with it. Even something as simple as changing your shirt in the middle of the game can have drastic effects on the outcome. No matter how illogical it is that your change of apparel at the 3:00 mark of the second quarter really caused your team to score, you will absolutely not take that new shirt off until it’s clear that it’s not working.
Well, for me, the bad news started when I got engaged. Let me be more specific. My sports luck changed as soon as I got engaged to a girl from CLEVELAND. I desperately hoped that my luck would rub off on her, and that maybe one of her beloved teams would finally turn a corner.
At this point though, it’s clear to say that the rubbing off has been the other way around.
In the last year and a half, the Colts have lost the Super Bowl (my NFL team), the Pacers drafted Tyler Hansbrough – who can’t even start over Josh McRoberts – (my NBA team), a student filming practice for Notre Dame died (my college football team), Robbie Hummel tore his ACL…twice…and Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave rimmed out (my college basketball teams), LeBron left, and the Browns signed Jake Delhomme (my wife’s teams).
No matter whose fault it is, though, something has happened to my favorite player. And worse than that, everyone is afraid to say something.
Over the past three weeks, I have seen the best QB of my lifetime lose something. Eleven interceptions. FOUR returned for TDs. Two game-ending failures.
I’m not talking about the pathetic “Me first” stigma that has come to tarnish Brett Favre’s career over the last few seasons.
No, it’s easy to forget this now, but once upon a time, Brett Favre was everybody’s favorite “Golden Boy.” He was a 3-Time MVP. He had been to two Super Bowls and won one of them. He ENJOYED playing the game. He would congratulate Warren Sapp for hitting him hard. He was, quite simply, everybody’s favorite player.
But then, something happened. Maybe it was the heartbreaking playoff loss, at home, to a young, exciting, unconventional team (that was the Michael Vick breakout year). Maybe it was his age. Maybe he stopped working hard. Maybe (and in my opinion, most likely) the entire rest of the league just figured him out. Whatever it was, Favre started slipping. He had always thrown interceptions, but slowly, the number started to rise. They became more and more crippling. At age 34, his team slipped from 12-4 (back to back) to 10-6 and he threw five more interceptions than he had in either of the previous two years.
Two years later, his team was 4-12 and he threw a startling 20 TDs and 29 picks. Then the circus started, and Favre was gone shortly thereafter.
Even though Favre was clearly not the same player, we were all too scared to say anything. Every one of his interceptions was “Brett Favre being Brett Favre.” He never made a bad throw…it was always a “gutsy decision that backfired” or “a little too much of a risk” or my favorite, “he just trusted his arm too much on that one.” Because of his tremendous career, and his incredibly likable personality, we kept giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Fast forward to 2010.
Peyton Manning is a 4-Time MVP. He has been to two Super Bowls and won one of them. He ENJOYS playing the game. He appreciates greatness. He is on every football commercial there is. He is, quite simply, everybody’s favorite player.
But this year, something has happened.
Now it’s entirely possible that this is just not the Colts’ year. Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, and Mike Hart have all missed significant time. Pierre Garçon has missed a few games as well. The offensive line has three brand new faces. And this is just on offense.
I, of all people, understand that you have to be realistic as a sports fan. If I were to start complaining about the terrible luck that has hit the Colts this year, every Browns fan in America would want to shoot me. Add to the injuries the Colts’ utter joke of a running game, and ANY quarterback would struggle, right?
And it’s still possible for the Colts to turn it around. As luck would have it, the entire AFC South is down this year, and the Colts, at 6-6, are still in the thick of things. In 5 weeks, I could be writing about the Colts visit to the Meadowlands and why Peyton Manning will ABSOLUTELY beat Mark Sanchez in a playoff game.
But what if the unthinkable has actually happened?
What if that Super Bowl loss last year scarred him more than any of us could ever realize? I mean, up until that point, he was Superman. As a fan, I used to joke around when the Colts were down with less than 2 minutes left in a game. I had supreme confidence that Peyton would pull it out. I even wrote an entire column, after the Patriots comeback last year, proving once and for all why Peyton was the Greatest QB to Ever Play.
But then, Tracy Porter picked off the slant, Peyton was blocked in the back (the most egregious no-call in Colts history since Kordell Stewart ran out of the back of the end zone and then caught a TD in the famous Hail-Mary game), and Drew Brees was celebrating. Had it occurred to anyone up until that point that the Colts could lose? Had it occurred to Manning? Maybe that pass changed him.
Maybe, he’s just getting old. I mean, his offensive line hasn’t been that good this year. Can a guy who has started every game since his rookie season really be that invincible? He can’t take this kind of punishment and not loose something, right?
Or maybe, and most unfortunately, the entire league has figured him out. There came a point in Brett Favre’s career where other teams realized, “Nobody else would ever think about throwing that pass, besides Brett.” That was one of things that made him so great. But once his opponents started planning for those passes, the interceptions skyrocketed. And they weren’t necessarily all the time. But in the BIG moments, when the game was on the line, opposing defenses started baiting Brett Favre, and the losses started piling up for Green Bay.
Maybe, the Super Bowl was the key. I remember hearing Gregg Williams talk about how the Saints had three game-plans going into the Super Bowl: one for the first half, one for the 3rd Quarter, and one for the 4th. Now I, of course, shrugged this off because, “Nobody could ever outsmart the great Peyton.” But when push came to shove, it was the Saints that were calling the shots, and not Peyton Manning.
Over the last three weeks, I have seen the Patriots, Chargers, and now Cowboys all pull the same stuff. And it’s not like Peyton has had TERRIBLE games. Against the Cowboys, he threw for nearly 400 yards. But in the BIG moments, when the game is won and lost, Peyton has been outsmarted. Repeatedly. That’s not supposed to happen.
I know the “leverage” penalty yesterday was ridiculous. Reggie Wayne’s drop in OT was equally demoralizing. If either of those plays go the other way, the Colts probably win. But still, I was interested to hear what Peyton would say after the game. Of course, he didn’t give any excuses. He was admirable in defeat. But then he said the following,
“I’m not going to get gunshy. Sometimes, when you are on a turnover streak, you start playing a little timid. Don’t expect me to stop slinging the ball up there. I just have to make better reads.”
Tell me that doesn’t give you chills. It wasn’t supposed to happen to Brett Favre, either. HE was the old gunslinger. The guy that threw for 300 yards in the first half the game after his dad died. The guy that had played in a billion straight games. He was too likable to be mortal. And because of that, we were blind to his true game for five years too long. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.
The truth is that Peyton still has 3 or 4 more GOOD years left in him, maybe more. But he is no longer Superman. The days of him single-handedly winning games are gone. That extra something about his game is just gone. If he doesn’t have enough help (which this year, he clearly doesn’t), the Colts are only average.
Look, I hope more than anyone that I’m wrong. Peyton is my favorite football player of all time. He has led my Colts to more good times than anyone could have ever predicted. And to be honest, if anyone deserves a free pass, it should be him. Again, I’m not sure any QB could win with the team the Colts have right now. The guy is entitled to have a few bad games. Just a month ago, Peter King still had him listed as his #1 MVP choice.
Now suppose you gave him all of his weapons back. Suppose you gave him a running game again. Suppose you gave him time to pass. Would he still be one of the best in the game? Absolutely.
But that’s the thing. For the past 8 years, the only person that you could LEGITIMATELY put in the same breath as him was Tom Brady. Now? I’m only confident saying that he’s in the Top 7 (Vick, Brees, Brady, Ryan, Rodgers, Rivers, Manning…in case you were wondering).
And for a guy that was one of the best I’ve ever seen, that’s the saddest something of all.