It was Mark Twain, who in 1897 gave us one of America’s most lasting quotes: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” This was slightly polished over time, like a stone in a river, making it stickier in the public’s conscious. Twain actually wrote, “This report of my death was an exaggeration.” But the race to declare the end of an icon is an American tradition, and conflating the facts to do so is even more our style.
Peyton Manning is very much a Twain of quarterbacking, as a century from now we’ll still be studying his passing literature and catalog of wordsmith audibles. And just like Twain, we can’t wait to bury him — even when he’s still very much alive.
After a rocky end to last season many were convinced we had seen the last of Peyton’s greatness. Following an ugly week one win over Baltimore millions were bragging they were right all along. “See, I called it!” And when the Chiefs went up 14-0 last night on a poorly thrown Pick-6, those masses patted themselves on the back with Facebook “like” buttons and laughing from bar stools.
Nevermind there was still six minutes to play in the second quarter, an avalanche of time for someone like Peyton with a history of quick-strikes. Forget the fact the Chiefs are still coached by Andy Reid. Ignore the reality that Peyton always beats Kansas City. Always.
Across social media and my iPhone’s text screen last night there was some iteration of, “Peyton held on too long. He’s going to get killed.” But Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders for a touchdown on a very Peyton-like drive (80 yards in less than 4:00), and a turnover led to another score via Virgil Green. The Broncos had tied things up in an instant, and would eventually go on to win 31-24. The masses would just have to wait until next weekend to declare Peyton dead again.
It’s not like this Hall of Fame quarterback is only 19 games removed from the greatest quarterbacked season of all-time. In ’13, he threw for 5,500 yards and 55 touchdowns. Both NFL records. He also led his team to a Super Bowl with 400 yards and two scores, no picks, in an AFC Title Game over his nemesis Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots. For some reason many choose to ignore that day in the “Peyton Can’t Beat the Pats” debates.
In the Super Bowl he got trucked by the Seahawks, and last year he looked un-Peyton-like down the stretch, and so by virtue of our “only the last five minutes count” sports society, he must have already died a quick football death.
This is not just a Peyton dynamic though. We rush as a society to say something first or loudest. Look at the recent online practice of solely typing “first” as the top comment under any post. This is what passes as accomplishments these days.
After a Monday Night Meltdown last season against (interestingly) the Chiefs, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell wrote a piece dissecting the misery of the Patriots’ offense through the first month. The title: “Is This (Finally) The End of the Patriots?” Frank Schwab at Yahoo!’s “Shutdown Corner” asked, “Was this the end for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ dynasty?”
Schwab wrote: “It was impossible to also not think about Tom Brady in the past tense. To wonder if we’re just never going to see one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history be great anymore. It was also worth wondering if the Patriots’ incredible dynasty died at Arrowhead Stadium, too.”
The Patriots ended up winning the Super Bowl, Brady was the MVP.
In December of 2008, the Jets lost the regular season finale to the Dolphins, knocking them out of the playoffs. It would be the last game in green for Brett Favre. He led a painfully familiar Jets collapse over the final month, ending with 14-year vet Tony Richardson saying, “I can’t recall another season where a team I played for fell apart like that.”
Following the brutal end the masses figured Favre’s career was done. The New York Daily News interviewed fans about their banged-up quarterback. “The Brett Favre experiment has failed,” said a Jets fan named Mark, who was too ashamed to give his last name.
Favre went 12-4 the next season in Minnesota, having one of his best statistical years ever. 33 TDs was his best mark in 11 years. His seven interceptions was his fewest EVER. The Vikes went 12-4 and to the NFC Championship Game.
In an era of lightning fast results, we expect the answers to pop up instantaneously. If Google can tell us within .87 seconds the distance to the next nearest galaxy (2.9 million light-years), then we must be able to declare a career over as soon as we see a crack in the foundation.
Maybe the Broncos end up relying far more on defense and a ground game than ever before to win. Maybe Peyton is no longer the fantasy point super computer he once was. But reports of his demise? Just like most endings in modern sports, greatly exagerrated.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.