By Peyton Fine
How Peyton Manning’s evolution has led to a Super Bowl appearance.
This may be it. This Super Bowl may be the last time we ever see Peyton Manning grace a football field. As Cam Newton begins to take the reins as the face of the NFL and the mantle of the best quarterback in the league, many believe we are left watching the shell of Peyton Manning’s old self compete against the new wave of uber-talented athletes in the NFL. Many are already assuming that the Panthers will walk all over the Broncos like the Seahawks did two years ago. Many are convinced that this Super Bowl will be nothing more than the swan song to Manning’s wonderful career that has failed to translate to postseason success. I’m here to tell you that this game will be competitive, and Manning just may win.
When Peyton Manning came out of college, he was the Cam Newton of his time—a physical specimen who looked built to play quarterback the way LeBron James looked built to dominate a basketball game. Manning was tall enough to see over offensive and defensive linemen, strong enough to make all of the throws across the field, and nimble enough to escape a rusher, reset his feet, and fire the ball. Manning now bears almost no resemblance to that player. After a neck injury required surgery, all of those athletic qualities began to fade. Couple that injury with his increasing age, and you get laser throws becoming wounded ducks, and sack escapes becoming bone-crushing hits.
So, after decrying the current state of Manning’s physical ability, why do I think that Denver has any chance to overtake the Panthers, a team that has steamrolled all in their path? Simple: it has nothing to do with Manning’s physical ability. It is all about his mind. This year, Manning’s failing body caused him to miss numerous games. In his stead, Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to a 5-2 record, and fans and pundits alike called for Osweiler’s installment as the starter for the Broncos. Even with Manning healthy, Osweiler was the starter for two games until the final game of the season.
In the Broncos’ final game, they trailed the Chargers due to multiple turnovers from Osweiler. The Broncos then made a call to the bench for Manning to try to lead a comeback, and he did. But it wasn’t really Manning who led the comeback. It was the running game and great runs from his receivers. Each subsequent play seemed as if a running back or a receiver would find the ball in his hands with a mile of space in front of him. How? Simple: Manning looked at the defense, read it like an open book, changed the play with his patented “Omaha!”, and delivered simple passes or handoffs to more skilled players.
Manning has done this throughout the playoffs as the Broncos have beaten the Steelers and the Patriots – two teams with Super Bowl-caliber players and experience. Manning made sure to not turn the ball over, to get the ball to his best players, and to always keep the defense guessing. Yet he is still averaging under 200 pass yards per game in the playoffs, so why is his ability to simply manage a game now good enough to win games? The answer is defense.
The Broncos are only allowing 17 points per game and forcing turnovers at a +2 clip. They are led by a defensive line that made Tom Brady look as uncomfortable as a teenager discussing his partying habits with his parents. As the Patriots had a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion in the AFC Championship Game, the defensive line made Brady run around in panic. Manning’s smartest play may simply be knowing that his defense is good enough to win games for the Broncos as long as it is not forced to face a short field due to a Manning turnover. If brawn can’t win it on Manning’s behalf, his brains may just be good enough to pass the ball off to the defense – which has the brawn to win the games.
Will all of this be enough for Denver to win? I hope so. I admit that I grew up a Peyton Manning fan, sharing his name and the city of his birth. But, even more so now than ever before, I want to see Peyton Manning win. I want to see the triumph of his mind over the failing matter of his body. I want to see the leader of the Broncos beat the far superior – at least in terms of athleticism – leader of the Panthers. I want to see the age-old adage of brains over brawn come to fruition.
Peyton Fine ’17 (email@example.com), wants to see a wonderful swan-song ending to Peyton Manning’s career.