Failure to win the big game keeps plaguing Manning
Posted: Monday January 17, 2005 5:07PM; Updated: Thursday January 20, 2005 10:40AM
Late in the Indianapolis-New England blowout Sunday, the cameras focused on Peyton Manning sitting on the bench, head down, eyes hidden. He appeared to be staring at the ground, perhaps rethinking the way the game was going, choices he could have made differently to change the game.
As the camera panned out, it became evident that he was flipping through a stack of photos from the last series, which had ended with an Indy turnover. The game was over, the Colts were down by two scores and there was no way for them to come back. Yet there was Peyton, trying to figure out some way to solve Bill Belichick's puzzling defenses.
In 1997, I drove up to Knoxville, Tenn., with a couple of friends to see Georgia play Tennessee. We had high hopes, praying that the Dawgs, then undefeated, would knock off the Vols. We scalped tickets outside and sat in the center of a UT alumni section. A woman in front of me noticed my Georgia T-shirt and asked if I was going to be cheering for the Bulldogs.
"Hopefully," I responded.
There was no joy in Knoxville, though, as Manning went 31 for 40 for 343 yards and four TDs, crushing Georgia 38-13. He was nearly perfect, much better than any college quarterback I'd seen before.
That day cemented my distaste for Manning. I hated the textbook-way he dropped back and held the ball next to his head and shook it as though it was a piggybank. I hated the way he spoke, full of a homespun good ol' boy folksy drawl. I hated his Forrest Gump haircut. Most of all, I hated that he was better than everyone on my team.
Despite my aversion, I can't deny that the Colts offense is (well, was) an amazing thing, entertaining to watch and often foreboding. I figured this would be the year when Indy (and Manning) would finally win a big game. But Manning, it turns out, is still Manning. He doesn't win the big games. He's never won a championship.
And that's OK. Manning has had a very, very good career, and he will continue to have a very, very good career. He's had some bad luck (it just had to snow yesterday, didn't it?), and he's made some bad passes. He's got millions of fans and dollars, records that will last for decades and a surname that is synonymous with football. The question posed today is: What is the measure of greatness? Is it yards? Wins? Touchdowns? Titles?
I don't think there's a singular answer. Maybe it depends on geography. Dominique Wilkins never won a title, but when I was growing up, he was all we had in Atlanta, the best player on my favorite team. He was great to us. He put up crazy numbers and did what his coach asked him to do. But in the big games, he couldn't win. Fans outside Atlanta never understood why he shot so much, and never understood that he had to because no one else could shoot. So he remained mostly an acquired taste.
To me, Peyton Manning is Dominique Wilkins, at least until/if he wins a title.
My metaphor isn't perfect, of course. Football is much more of a team game than basketball, and Manning is surrounded by more talent than 'Nique ever was. And Manning's not done yet. He's only 28 years old, and as little as he gets hit, he could probably play another decade. There could still be a title in his future.
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Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com. He's hoping someone with spare tickets to the Falcons/Eagles game sends him an e-mail.