Brian Hamilton: Broncos win one for the good guys
As a former sportswriter, I’ve always been a sucker for the underdog story.
I know, I know, there’s no cheering in the press box.
But I certainly do root for the best story, and nine times out of 10, David is the better story than Goliath.
What happens, though, when Goliath suddenly becomes David? That was the case Sunday, when Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos slayed Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to punch their ticket to Levi’s Stadium and Super Bowl 50.
OK, I realize this nowhere near the greatest upsets of all time. After all, this was Peyton Manning, the most prolific passer in NFL history. But somehow, despite also having the No. 1 defense in the NFL, no one — especially in New England, as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy offered last week with brutal honesty — gave the Broncos and their suddenly “washed up” quarterback a chance on their home field, no less.
“Poor Peyton,” Shaughnessy wrote. “Nine touchdown passes, 17 interceptions this season. Smart guys are calling for Denver coach Gary Kubiak to go with Brock Osweiler. Manning can’t break a pane of glass with his jelly arm. We clock the hang time of his passes. He’s throwing better knucklers than R.A. Dickey.
“Manning is a 39-year-old Tiger Woods, stripped of dignity and health, unable to make the cut. He is Pedro Martinez, struggling to make his final start with the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. He is a damaged Muhammad Ali enduring a beating from Larry Holmes in Vegas in 1980. He is 41-year-old Bob Cousy making a seven-game comeback with the Cincinnati Royals in 1969.”
Or, just maybe, he’s John Elway, ready to ride off into the sunset as a two-time Super Bowl champion?
We shall see. And no doubt the Carolina Panthers will have plenty to say about that on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara.
But, in full disclosure, I wasn’t only cheering on Manning because of the naysayers. And, in all honesty, despite being from Indiana and therefore a long-suffering, but recently celebrating Indianapolis Colts fan, it wasn’t even so much about rooting against the Patriots (though, admittedly easy to do, considering their dynastic dominance in the better part of the past two decades).
No, my applause is for Peyton Manning. And the reasons extend far beyond all the touchdowns, the wins and the championships his once “laser rocket arm” brought to Indianapolis. Of course, he did turn around a franchise that was often the league laughingstock, one that had made just three playoff appearances in its first 14 years in Indy, building a juggernaut that made 11 trips to the postseason and played in two Super Bowls, including the 2007 championship, in his own 14 years there.
And from the day he arrived to the day he left town, Manning proved to be what seems so rare in sports these days: a class act.
For those who regularly read the Indianapolis Star, Manning’s philanthropy and charity work is well known, most notably through the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and his PeyBack Foundation. But the stories that really show this quarterback’s character are the stuff of local legend, requiring sports writers to go to great extents to unearth them as he doesn’t exactly seek headlines for his not-so random acts of kindness. Such stories report his reaching out to a local family during a tragic time, inviting military heroes to a game, or simply stopping to sign autographs — even moments after his Broncos were blown out by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
He doesn’t have to do these things. But he does. (That’s why his famed “United Way” commercial spoof on Saturday Night Live, supposedly showing the darkside of this good guy, was so hilarious.)
And that’s one of the many reasons why — in addition to all those wins — that folks like me are still ready to offer him a standing ovation, long after he left Indianapolis, a press conference announcement that still tugs at the heartstrings of Hoosiers everywhere. Even as he said his goodbye, he made that moment about someone else — this time the fans who had supported him and his teammates — closing while choking up in saying, “Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”
So maybe it’s more fitting that instead of carrying his team on his shoulders into the Super Bowl, in his former Goliath-like fashion, that Peyton Manning makes what likely will be his last stand as just another member of the team — in similar fashion as Elway in the final games of his own Hall of Fame career — in the same humble, professional and class-act manner that made so many of us proud to cheer for Peyton.
And, if he does call it a career after Super Bowl 50, many Hoosiers hope he might consider heading back home again in Indiana, where they would, no doubt, truly enjoy him being their head coach.
Brian Hamilton is editor of The Union. Contact him via email at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.
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