Down And Distance
Why do we act like we know Peyton Manning personally, and other thoughts onSuper Bowl hype
With the determination this past weekend that this year’s Super Bowl would be a rematch of the fateful Super Bowl XLII, also known as “The Best Super Bowl Of The Millennium,” the stories have focused largely on the fact that these teams are different than their 2007-season incarnations, that this is an opportunity for the Patriots to wash the bad taste of their stunning defeat at the hands of the Giants in ’07 out of their mouths, but also — weirdly — on Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who didn’t play a single snap all season.
NBC’s ProFootballTalk, one of the best football blogs online, titled its post announcing the winners of Championship Weekend, “Peyton’s kid brother and Peyton’s arch-rival will meet in Peyton’s house,” insisting that no story surrounding the Super Bowl will be “bigger than this: Peyton Manning’s younger brother will be meeting Peyton Manning’s biggest rival in the house that Peyton built,” referring to the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, which was opened to contain the surging-in-popularity Colts after the ’07 season.
It’s a compelling hook, sure, especially given the deeply uncertain future surrounding the elder Manning brother’s health status and the increasingly-likely chance that he won’t return to the Colts in 2012.
It’s a compelling hook, sure, especially given the deeply uncertain future surrounding the elder Manning brother’s health status and the increasingly-likely chance that he won’t return to the Colts in 2012. The team owns the first pick in the upcoming draft and has already said that they’ll be using it to draft standout Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a move that indicates that the team’s top priority is finding Manning’s replacement.
The article concludes that, “A win by the Giants would give Eli Manning twice as many rings as Peyton; Tom Brady will quadruple Peyton’s career haul with a fourth. Regardless of the outcome, Peyton will be more motivated than ever to add to his own total.”
Why does everybody act like they really know Peyton Manning?
We’ve had better than a decade of watching Peyton Manning play football at a high level. Yeah, the guy — especially during the regular season — is certainly among the greatest to ever play the game.
We’ve coined phrases like “Manningface” (defined by Malcolm Gladwell — yeah, that Malcolm Gladwell! — as “the look of someone who has just faced up to a sobering fact: I am in complete control of this offense. I prepare for games like no other quarterback in the NFL. I am in the best shape of my life. I have done everything I can to succeed — and I'm losing. Ohmigod. I'm not that good.”) to explain what’s going on with the guy.
We’ve seen the SNL sketch that lampoons his hyper-competitive image. Various pages on the Internet are littered with unsourced “quotes” from Manning that can also be variously found attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Drew Barrymore. Even Rob Lowe is somehow convinced he knows the guy’s inner thoughts. We’ve decided that Peyton Manning is a driven man who cares only about winning and proving his own greatness based not on the words that he’s said, but on a narrative we’ve created about who he is.
But why are we so sure?
We have a tendency — especially with football players, who we know in intimate physical detail (ask a die-hard Colts fan Manning’s height, weight and how long it takes him to run 40 yards, as well as what specific treatments he sought for his neck) but mostly only see wearing helmets and facemasks — to assume that we understand them beneath the surface.
That makes it a shock when, say, Manning’s longtime on-field BFF Marvin Harrison gets accused of pulling a gun on people, or when Brett Favre is caughttexting pictures of his weinerto female members of the Jets organization. We thought we knew these guys, and it turns out they have more going on in their lives than just the parts that we see!
The assumption, therefore, based on Peyton Manning’s body language and facial expression, is that he’s filled with bitter envy at the fact that his little brother and his nemesis are playing for a Super Bowl title.
The assumption, therefore, based on Peyton Manning’s body language and facial expression, is that he’s filled with bitter envy at the fact that his little brother and his nemesis are playing for a Super Bowl title while he’s still enduring rehab. That he can’t wait to get back out there and prove that he’s “the best Manning,” as an unsourced, apocryphal quote floating around the Internet has him declaring.
But maybe he’s just happy for Eli?
If everybody’s beliefs that they just know the real Peyton Manning are correct, then the guy is faced with a pair of swell opportunities: if he wants to best Tom Brady, there’s word on the street that New England’s division rival in Miami will be making a full-court-press to sign Manning in the event that he leaves the Colts.
If he’d rather show the world that he’s “the best Manning,” well, Jerry Jones just yesterday said that “the big difference” between the Giants and the Cowboys is that his division rival has a quarterback whose jersey says “Manning” across the back, a clear shot at Tony Romo and a suggestion that our prediction from early November could pan out.
Can you imagine Peyton and Eli dueling twice a year for the next few years? NBC could use the Sunday Night Football ratings boost to keep Community alive for six seasons and a movie…
But that’s all random speculation, based on the cartoon version of Peyton Manning that we’ve created. We like to pretend that we know these guys, that we’ve figured out what makes them tick, that they exist largely as the figures that we see on television. After Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal to seal the Patriots victory, Twitter and everybody on it was convinced that he was going to kill himself, unless his teammate Ray Lewis did it first; in reality, Lewis defended Cundiff in the locker room, and Cundiff seems to already have some perspective on the kick.
The fact is, all of these guys — from Billy Cundiff to Peyton Manning — are real people with complex inner lives and emotions that are about more than what they do at work. It’s possible, of course, that the public perception of Manning is correct, and inside he’s seething at the notion that little Eli may soon double his number of Super Bowl rings, or that Tom Brady might be able to settle the “who’s the best quarterback of his generation” debate by flashing four. But it’s also possible that it’s not something he thinks about much. And that wouldn’t make him any less great a quarterback, either.