Imagine you woke up this morning as Peyton Manning: your neck is killing you and you can’t feel your triceps. Four surgeries in nineteen months. Nothing has changed.
You split open the curtains. The news vans are already parked out front. It was fun while it lasted. The anonymity of it all. The quiet morning reps with Todd Helton. The incognito rehab. Then that Dukie kid tweeted about stretching next to you and ruined everything.
You can’t watch SportsCenter anymore. Your last name its own category on the ticker. You are the soup du jour for starving sports writers in the most desolate of sports months.
This is what your muse Favre must have felt like. Except his boss didn’t send drunken tweets about him at 4 in the morning. Some nights you’re family and on others you’re a calculating politician. But every night you’re the subject of a bi-polar billionaire’s warped ramblings for all of the world to see.
Your company is in shambles. Your mentors have been fired wholesale. Senior management already anointed your successor: a scruffy, cerebral twenty-two year old kid from Stanford who’s the most breathlessly ballyhooed college quarterback since, well, you.
On the bright side, your baby bro slayed your arch-rival in the House That You Built. You’re proud of him, of course, but inside it grates at you. That the Saints pick-six denied you your own second ring. And that The Onion published those snarky headlines.
Then there’s the arm again… it’s worse than people think. You can’t get the giddy-up on the deep ball like before. You can’t throw left. You can’t throw across your body.
The receivers don’t say it. They sprint their routes, ply you with “attaboys,” but you can tell. Their fingers aren’t swollen over after your fusillades anymore. The deep ball doesn’t whistle like it used to.
You shake it off. Pull your visor down low and hit the weight room. Hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Like you have every yesterday since December.
Peyton Manning woke up this morning as a victim.
Tossing and turning about fitful what-ifs: what if the league let him work with trainers during the lock-out? What if the neck is never right again? What if Andrew Luck went pro last year?
Peyton Manning is, for the first time, America’s sweetheart. But the truth is that it took America a while to warm up to him. Manning spent the first half of his career as the self-entitled villain, always on the wrong side of the game’s purest rags-to-riches parable. We savored the schadenfreude. We looked forward to the lip-biting Manning Face each and every January.
Peyton Manning was groomed for football royalty: the son of a Pro Bowl quarterback, a collegiate national champion and the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He was the heir apparent.