From the little bit of the Broncos-Chiefs game I was able to watch last night, coupled with watching most of last week's Broncos-Ravens game, and the vivid memories of watching the Broncos at the end of last season and in the playoffs, I'm ready to call it a career for Peyton Manning.
Peyton is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game - he already holds or will likely hold every major passing record in NFL history when he finally retires - but he no longer looks physically capable of playing at a high level.
This is not going to be a rip job. Although I've had to make Peyton into an enemy for his entire career, that doesn't mean I don't respect his greatness.
In HBO's excellent documentary on Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Bird says that he woke up every morning to look at the Lakers box score from the night before to see how Magic had played. He needed to do that because Magic was the only player that Bird measured himself against. Bird adds that when Magic was forced to retire when he tested positive for HIV, he knew his career was done too because he no longer would have Magic to compete against and that he had been holding on despite a crippling back problem just because he had to compete with Magic.
I think that is what most real sports fans feel for their team's rival. Having a great player or team for your favorite player or team to compete against and to be measured against is a wonderful gift for true fans.
Here in Boston, there is a great legacy of our players and teams having classic "enemies" to compete against.
The Lakers. The Canadiens. Any team from New York City.
Wilt Chamberlain. Ken Dryden. Magic Johnson. Any player from a New York City team.
Peyton Manning, and his Colts and Broncos teams, also have a secure place on that list.
As the other great quarterback from Tom Brady's generation, Manning has provided Patriots fans with a perfect foil. He is the opponent we judge Brady by and, for the most part, New England claims Brady the victor. Brady has more championships than Manning and is relatively close to him in statistical production. Brady is 12-5 against Manning, with the quarterbacks splitting their playoff match-ups at 2-2.
The best part of a Manning-Brady debate, like Russell-Chamberlain in the 1960's or Bird-Magic in the 1980's, is that either side can claim their player as the winner.
Manning is a certain first ballot Hall of Famer, as is Brady. Both have enough statistics, trophies, and accolades to fill a museum. Brady does have more championships but that doesn't mean that Manning is not a champion in the history books.
While I naturally choose Brady over Manning, that does not mean I do not respect Manning as a player or his accomplishments or that I do not enjoy watching Manning play the game. Yes, I've certainly enjoyed many a Sunday rooting against Peyton Manning and his teams, but that is the fun of being a fan. You choose your "enemy" and you hope that they fail. But that does not mean you lack respect for the opponent.
The thing is, as a Brady fan, Manning's decline means that his is not too far away either. Brady is celebrated for his ability to stay young - avocado ice cream anyone? - but eventually age catches up to even the best players. It will call Brady's number sooner than later, no matter how many times he says he will play until he's 45-years-old.
In closing, I know that if Brady never turned into a 4-time Super Bowl champion and 3-time Super Bowl MVP and the Patriots were not the juggernaut that they became in the 21st Century, that I would have been a Peyton Manning fan. I did it with Tim Duncan and the Spurs before the Celtics revived their franchise and I did it with, surprisingly enough, the Derek Jeter Yankee teams of the late 1990's.
I've always respected and enjoyed great individual players and great teams and while I may not have publicly endorsed Manning and his teams, that does not take away from my respect for his abilities and accomplishments.
I hope he has a better close to his career than it seems he is heading towards. The final memories of Manning should not be of a beat up quarterback who is struggling to pass the ball and taking a pounding from opposing defenses. I hope he can muster up one last run for himself and the Broncos this year and call it quits on his own terms after the season.
Which, in my perfect world, would be after the Broncos are defeated by Brady's Patriots in the playoffs.
Now on to the weekly picks. All picks are against the spread and the home team is in CAPS.
NOTRE DAME (+3) over Georgia Tech
Auburn (+8) over LSU
Florida State (-9) over BOSTON COLLEGE
Northwestern (+3.5) over DUKE
ALABAMA (-6.5) over Mississippi
Last Week: 1-4
Texans (+3) over PANTHERS
Buccaneers (+10) over SAINTS
STEELERS (-6) over 49ers
VIKINGS (-2.5) over Lions
Patriots (-1) over BILLS
Cardinals (-2) over BEARS
Titans (-1) over BROWNS
Chargers (+3) over BENGALS
Rams (-3.5) over REDSKINS
GIANTS (-2.5) over Falcons
RAIDERS (+6.5) over Ravens
Dolphins (-6) over JAGUARS
EAGLES (-5) over Cowboys
Seahawks (+3.5) over PACKERS
COLTS (-7) over Jets
Last Week: 6-9-1
This Week: 0-1