Peyton Manning has a decision to make. A very difficult decision that even the greatest of professional sports stars all to often seem to wreck up.
To play, or not to play?
For Peyton Manning, yes, he could attempt to return from what clearly is a serious injury, and threat to his well-being, and continue to showcase why he’s one of the finest quarterbacks, if not the finest, to ever play the game.
He could also return, be no longer capable of performing at the ridiculously high level he has throughout his career and beginning tarnishing a legacy. This particular possibility creates a very slippery scope, one where the pride and ego of a man who essentially has been the coach of his professional football teams may feel a drive to come back another year, and another, in a desperate attempt to prove he still “had it”. Such a downhill slide would only further remove the luster of one of exceptional career.
Worse than either of those however, he could return and suffer a debilitating, life altering injury that prevents him from doing all the things he once perhaps took for granted, besides of course throwing touchdown passes. Were this to happen, Manning would suddenly be not only unable to be a husband and father the way he always assumed he could, he’d be vilified by many as a selfish arrogant athlete who put his own ego and desire ahead of that of his family. That’s not exactly a way to be remembered.
Or, Manning could just acknowledge that his time has come. He could hang it up today, and nobody will ultimately really remember that ultimately it was indeed injury that forced him out of the game. They’ll remember that even in his 13th season at age 34, Manning threw for more yards than he had in all but one season prior, and threw for as many touchdowns as he had in all but one previous season. In other words, they’ll remember Peyton Manning in his final year being just about as good as Peyton Manning ever was.
In taking that route though, Manning must accept he has to leave the game on terms other than his own. He must accept that injury, the laws of age, and physics, have taken a toll, and it’s time to move on. Such acceptance is hard for many of us to accept in many aspects of our own lives. You take the egos and pride of high profile superstar athletes, and those who can do it become few and far between.
In fact, the number of athletes who weren’t able to accept it is rather depressing. Instead of retiring and walking away at the top of their games, they hang on, and become trending topics on twitter. And not for adoration and praise, but because they’ve become the punchline of thousands of jokes across the internet.
They become the player our kids look at and laugh, unaware of their former prowess on the playing field. To a generation they became a joke, a nobody. To an entire generation, there is no thought given to the fact that at one time they had reached legendary status of almost mythical proportions. Nope, they’re just the old guy that stinks and needs to be replaced by the new young superstar.
Manning need only look no further than two former superstar quarterbacks with similar ties to see the pitfalls of failing to realize when it’s time to let it go.
Remember the guy who Peyton Manning once wore black high tops to memorialize for? That Johnny Unitas fellow? Of course you do. But do you remember the way his career ended. Let’s hope you don’t. While Unitas struggled at the tail of his career, throwing just 10 touchdowns to 22 interceptions in his final three years, that’s not what the end of his career is remembered by.
Unitas did something nobody thought he would ever do. He did something nobody could have envisioned Peyton Manning do. He put on a helmet with something besides a blue horseshoe on it. No tale of Unitas’ career is complete without that little footnote at the end reminding us that he ultimately did not finish his career with his Baltimore Colts, but rather flailing around unceremoniously as a San Diego Charger.
Just because Baltimore Colts fans had to deal with seeing such an fathomable sight, it doesn’t mean the Indianapolis version must suffer the same fate.
But there’s an even better lesson to be learned from someone linked a bit stronger to Manning.
While not from Louisiana, Brett Favre, like Manning, is a native of the Bayou region in general. A Mississippi kid, the same state where Peyton’s father, and perhaps soon to be more famous younger brother played collegiately, Favre replaced Archie Manning as the hero of the gulf coast region, only to be replaced by Peyton.
Unfortunately for Favre, a lot of the reason Manning has supplanted him is because of…well…Brett Favre.
Favre memorably retired his way out of Green Bay, and into another shade of green in New York with the Jets. There he proceeded to injure his shoulder and along the way lead the entire NFL in interceptions thrown.
Yes, Favre bounced back in 2009 with a season for the ages, but little of that is remembered. What’s remembered his how he had managed to snake his way out of Green Bay into the arms of bitter rival Minnesota through his detour with the Jets.
What is remembered, that with a Super Bowl appearance in his grasp, Favre made one of the dumbest throws in NFL playoff football history. Coincidentally enough, this took place in Peyton’s home town of New Orleans against Archie’s Saints.
During that particular NFC championship game Favre was hit, and hit often. Injuries to his ankle likely would have left him unable to play in the Super Bowl had he not given the football game away (much like he had given away his last opportunity to win an NFC championship game in 2008, against, ironically enough, Eli’s Giants) so maybe the interception was a moot point.
WHat wasn’t though was a once proud warrior, a legendary folk hero, laying on the Superdome turf, beaten, battered, defeated, and through largely the fault of his own.
There was no way Favre would go out that way, everyone knew that. Thus began that slippery slope. Favre tried again one more time with Minnesota. Only to again, be besieged by injury and ineffectiveness.
Over Favre’s final three years, plus one game, the memories are of two blown Super Bowl appearances, two sub-par seasons, and an injury prone old man. Not how you endear yourself to the younger generation.
Beyond that, the ridicule that came with the ever-lasting Favre saga each and every offseason had become so much a part of everyday life, it finally became un-noticed. You think Tim Tebow coverage is a bit excessive now, I think we all know the Favre love-fest and obsession was far worse.
But in reading what you’ve just read, where was the talk about the gun slinger, care free kid who played football, played it damn well, and had a ton of fun doing it? Oh, right, it wasn’t mentioned, it’s long a distant memory.
Don’t let what made you great become a distant memory to a side-show circus where you undermine what was one of the finer careers in professional football.