When Peyton Manning forgot his name

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We are going through that time of year when the NFL famine begins to have serious repercussions on our mental health and, terribly short of arguments, we rack our brains in a vain attempt to fill the excruciating void now turned into a chasm: we are going through that time of the year when, for one reason or another, the conversations on the “GOAT” fill the television schedules with undying conviction and inflame our discussions with complete strangers on social networks.

If you want to talk about the best players ever, you can’t avoid the topic – and the character and player – Peyton Manning: yes, Tom Brady won more, much more, Tom Brady at nearly 44 was consistently able to connect deeply with Mike Evans while poor Peyton, barely 40, was no longer able to push the spheroid any more ten yards beyond, I know dear readers, but Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning.

Peyton Manning
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JANUARY 08: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8, 2011, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Jets won 17-16. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Most likely no one, at this point, will refer to him as the “real” GOAT but the fact remains that Archie’s pimp was one of the most iconic, important and brilliant players ever to have trodden the gridiron.

Although nowhere near as physically talented as the various Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning has found a way to excel by squeezing every single neuron to the limits of slavery: no player in the history of the game, Sunday after Sunday, took the field with a level of preparation. and knowledge of the opposing team similar to that of Peyton Manning.

During his moving farewell speech to the NFL, Manning himself reiterated it by stating, with his voice broken by emotion, “There were other players who were more talented but there was no one could out-prepare me and because of that I have no regrets »: no one could boast of coming to a match more ready than him and I feel I can agree with him with conscious tranquillity.

Excelling in the most complicated position in the sports world, for Peyton Manning, was quite simple, as it took him countless hours spent in the dark, alone, in his Batcave with the derrière firmly glued to his trusted chair: other than training with Aaron Donald’s knives, as well as the deformed barbells from the excessive weight at the extremities convulsively lifted by James Harrison, for Manning to dominate and make history it was enough to study like an obsessed the team of others, his own and above all himself.

The maniacal pursuit of perfection that drove him to sacrifice his life in pursuit of anything that could give the slightest competitive advantage to his Colts – or Broncos – was not limited to American football, however, as Manning was a perfectionist in every single one as well. another aspect of real-life: perfection, for him, was not the end, but the means with which he faced and is facing every single day of his life.

Manning was a professional long before he landed in the NFL thanks to diplomacy, poise, elegance and a class that I’m not sure can be taught: one aspect he particularly cared about was not to provide extra motivation to his opponents with statements. explosive in the days of approaching the matches, since this in his eyes was an error comparable to an interception, for him to set fire to the soul of the opposing players for no particular reason it was extremely stupid and gave them an advantage that would have gone to nullify hours of study in your own personal cinema.

This mindset can also be extended to his normal life, as Manning in front of a camera has always found the right words giving constant proof of a class and poise that should not concern us human beings, especially those who do their utmost to make ends meet in this discipline: in summary, we could define the sheriff with the number 18 a good – and beautiful – person born to lead other people to success.

On one occasion, however, to the general surprise of millions of fans, Peyton Manning set aside his blinding perfection by abandoning himself to a rare and justified declaration that it was not for the irrefutable video evidence no one would believe he could have come out of his candidacy – but in contexts right sharp – mouth.

First, however, I must provide you with the necessary background: I would go straight to the point but for obvious narrative needs, I am forced to lengthen the stock a bit.
Let’s do this, I’ll tell you just one thing: the curses that amazed the world was aimed at your own kicker.

Yes, to the kicker.

He entered the NFL in 1998 with a disproportionate hype, after a difficult first year in which he set the record – which is very unlikely to be removed – for interceptions launched by a rookie, Manning found his redemption almost immediately, in 1999 when the Colts and their quarterback became the protagonists of one of the most brilliant metamorphoses of which even you most adult readers have memory, overturning the 3-13 of the previous year in a bombastic 13-3 made possible by a constantly growing Peyton Manning: for the first time since 1987, the Colts won their own division.

In the playoffs, however, the magic evaporated rather quickly and the Tennessee Titans, at the end of a hard-fought and uncertain game, took home the victory with a narrow three-point gap, 19 to 16.

The imaginary arrow, however, pointed towards the ‘high, Indianapolis was a young and brilliant team and the future could only be bright.

1998 was not the first year among professionals only for Peyton Manning, as an unknown kicker by the name of Mike Vanderjagt, after a long internship in CFL that lasted for several years, blew the place to ex-Pro Bowler Cary Blanchard becoming, somewhat surprisingly, the new kicker of the team with the horseshoe as his emblem: his 1998 was brilliant and from then on imagining someone else violently kicking a ball in an attempt to make it pass through two poles for Indianapolis Colts wasn’t easy.

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As we have already seen, Indianapolis had everything necessary to enter the Olympus of the NFL by establishing itself as the papal super-power of the impending 21st century.

We had arrived in 1999, then.
In 2000 Indianapolis confirmed the good things shown the previous year, Peyton Manning ended the season with extremely brilliant numbers – almost 4500 yards launched, 33 touchdowns against 15 interceptions – earning the second call to the Pro Bowl and reiterating that to judge a quarterback after only one year it is pure and disrespectful madness – I talk to you haters about poor Tua Tagovailoa.

The epilogue, however, was bleakly similar to that of the previous season, this time the defeat came at the hands of the Miami Dolphins in extra time after Mike Vanderjagt pushed the possible victory to the right: attributing the defeat to Vanderjagt alone would be unfair, after all, his quarterback completed just over half of the passes attempted by collecting less than 200 yards.

It’s hard to think of winning like this .

The defeat had repercussions on the following season: Indianapolis, apparently lost, ended with an anonymous 6-10 the year remembered almost exclusively for the explosion of Jim Mora in the postgame of a defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.

“Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs ?! You kidding me? Playoffs ?! I just hope we can win a game! Another game! “

Manning regressed, the number of interceptions came dangerously close to that of the touchdowns launched – 26 to 23 – and Indianapolis, after a couple of promising seasons seemed to be back to square one.

We remove Jim Mora from the equation, replaced by Tony Dungy, an incredibly balanced, rational and calm man who is unlikely to be controlled by his emotions: from the human point of view this was the best possible fit for Peyton Manning, boy – as already said – posed and perpetually rational.

After four seasons full of ups and downs, the Colts were at a crossroads as not only did they have to find a way back to the playoffs but, above all, once inside it was necessary to conquer that first, damn victory that would take a lot of pressure off the no more. so broad shoulders of Manning.

At that time, for obvious reasons, I did not follow the NFL but I confess that I would barter a few years of my stay on this sphere to relive them and verify firsthand if Manning was the protagonist of the same, hateful, process to which a substantial part of the community every week. NFL submits poor Lamar Jackson who, to be honest, in the first three years of his career has been far more successful than one of the greatest ever.
Sorry for the digression.

The Dungy treatment had the hoped-for effects in record time and the Colts, after the excruciating 2001, returned to playing healthy American football in January: this time, however, they did not come out defeated in a fight to the death decided in extremis, but were literally crushed by the New York Jets who dismissed them with a peremptory 41 to 0.
Peyton Manning’s playoff record in the five years spent in the NFL was merciless: three defeats out of three games played, only one touchdown launched in the face of two interceptions, 186 yards per game and a percentage of completes well below 50 per cent.
At the playoffs, Manning was punctually the protagonist of a transformation that made him the bad copy of the quarterback who continued to show signs of growth in the regular season establishing himself, year after year, as one of the brightest stars in the NFL firmament: the playoffs represented the very personal midnight of Peyton Manning and once puff struck, as if by magic he turned into one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, an individual who had no reason to be involved in games like that.

Vanderjagt, meanwhile, continued to do his job with appreciable constancy, and the front office, aware of the value of a kicker capable of converting 85% of the places attempted in the previous five yearsrewarded his brilliance with a five-year made the highest-paid kicker in the NFL: well, at least he would have had a pretty quiet offseason, right?

During an interview with a Canadian television station, the newly-renewed and deservedly millionaire kicker answered the questions posed with excessive zeal, and out of the blue, he began to hurl fiery darts in the direction of his quarterback, telling how during the week before. of the clear defeat against the Jets, all his attempts to charge his teammate were met with robotic “yes yes ok” that frustrated the kicker to the point of pushing him to question Manning’s enthusiasm and leadership on live television: for Vanderjagt a quarterback, in addition to throwing touchdowns and avoiding turnover, had no problem yelling in the face of any teammate letting himself be carried away by his emotions in the hope of infecting the rest of the locker room.

Unfortunately, Vanderjagt did not stop there and decided to throw his new coach, Tony Dungy, under the proverbial tram, guilty of being too similar to Peyton Manning, too measured and calm: in his opinion, the Dungy-Manning mix would not have led. the Colts are away.
The gloss, if possible, was even worse.

“I’m not a real big Colts fan right now, unfortunately, I just don’t see us getting better”

Mind you, such a statement would have been terribly inappropriate even if uttered by Manning himself, let alone by a kicker: you know that they are for equal opportunities and for this reason their passionate supporter, but a kicker should not make certain statements on television.
The apology, at that point a formality, came almost immediately, but by now the die was cast.

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All of this took place during Pro Bowl week and Peyton Manning, for the third time in his career, was in Hawaii enjoying a well-deserved week of vacation and worship amidst the best – theoretically – the NFL had to offer: Manning, as a good diplomat he is, he refused to comment on his kicker’s statements saying that he would deal with the situation once he returned to Indianapolis.
How boring Peyton, always so calm, always so perfect …

On February 2, 2003, the day of my seventh birthday, during the Pro Bowl, Peyton Manning for thirty seconds forgot that he was Peyton Manning, finally proving to be human and, above all, emotional like all of us: short circuit? Did any cables become disconnected at the worst moment?

Interviewed on the sidelines, after talking about his relationship with Marvin Harrison, a receiver who had just ended the regular season with 143 receptions, a comfortable all-time record for wrestling in a season, he was again prodded on the subject Vanderjagt: do you know how journalists are, no?
His answer – from 1:01 minute of the video below – went straight into legend.

Wow.
Peyton Manning, the definition of class and rationality, which defines one’s kicker as an “idiot” on four separate occasions? Peyton Manning, a cyborg programmed to say and do the right thing in any context, alluding to the fact that such statements were probably made because he was drunk?

As in the case of Vanderjagt, the apologies were immediate and all the parties involved did everything possible to cover up the question and answer, or rather, to contain its dimensions and not transform it into the story that would have governed a season still far from seeing the light.

Manning’s thunderous words stunned the whole NFL world, amazed by the apparent lack of professionalism of a quarterback who had already learned to stand in front of a camera.

Obviously, the story did not end there, shortly after the start of the 2003 season Vanderjagt, in an interview with ESPN The Mag, confessed without too much shame that he was hurt by Manning’s comments, that his family even thought of suing him for defamation – ah, the whole world is a country – and that, above all, he was not “simply a kicker”, but a respected leader in the locker room around which the other players gravitated “despite” the role.

Surprisingly, 2003 was a breakthrough year for Manning and Vanderjagt himself, as the quarterback not only landed his first MVP but also picked up his first two career playoff wins, demolishing the Broncos – five touchdowns and game over. with the perfect passer rating of 158.3 – and the Chiefs, while Vanderjagt, if possible, impressed even more than his rival-mate by not missing a single place during the season: 2003 ended a surreal 40 out of 40 in terms of field goals and a necessary 58 out of 58 on extra points.

No one before him had been able to hit every single place attempted during the regular season and playoffs .

His career with the Colts ended with the mocking defeat at the 2005 Championship Game at the hands of the Steelers, a 21 to 18 made possible by a late 46-yard mistake that cost them the chance to catch up again: a few days later, in front of millions of Americans, host of David Letterman – diehard Colts fan -, the kicker/rock star easily converted the exact same football that concluded their ride to the Super Bowl.

For Indianapolis that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the following offseason they decided not to offer him a contract, blowing the New England Patriots Adam Vinatieri, one of the most clutch and reliable kickers in history: ironically, less than a year later, Indianapolis won the Lombardi while riding the poor Chicago Bears driven by Rex Grossman.

I don’t feel I have to tell you about the evolution of Manning’s career.

Manning’s sensational interview in no way tarnishes the career of one of the greatest ever, but in my opinion, it represented a crucial moment in his development as a player, as a leader and as a man, since for once, for a few seconds, Manning turned into a human being by launching himself into a very human – and shareable – invective that allowed us to empathize – relatively – with him: it is acceptable to have emotions, it is totally human to express them regardless of one’s status or profession, there is no nothing wrong with letting the whole world know that your kicker is considered an idiot who perhaps took a few glasses too many before going live.

For a moment, in the most unlikely context possible, Peyton Manning was a human being as we all are and, had I been old to appreciate him, I would have immediately elected him my new idol and source of inspiration.

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