Quarterback Peyton Manning will announce his departure from Colts at press conference Wednesday.
Imagine you’re an NFL quarterback. You’re a former number one pick in the draft. You’ve passed for over 54,000 yards, insuring a permanent spot at the hall of fame at Canton, Ohio. You’ve thrown for 399 touchdowns, and won a super bowl. You almost single handedly elevated a doormat team to a perennial Super Bowl contender. Your career passing rating is 94.5. You have literally rewritten the entire NFL passing record book. You are a sports icon endorsing everything from McDonalds to Sony. You are a squeaky clean, boy-next-door type who has represented class from day one, never being caught up in drugs or sex or violence scandals so common in pro sports these days. You are beloved by sports fans everywhere.
And you’ve just been cut.
If Yankee Stadium is the house that Ruth built, then Lucas Stadium is Peyton’s playground. Peyton Manning, perhaps the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever known, has just been shamefully, disrespectfully, and unceremoniously cut from the team he elevated with his very presence. So significant was his play that the team went 2-14 in his absence this past year.
Yes he is recovering from a significant development with his neck and shoulder. A relatively minor injury blossomed into a full-blown career-threatening situation when surgery did not correct the problem and Manning had to miss the entire past season. This ended a string of years where he was virtually indestructible and rarely missed playing time. Yes there is no guarantee that he will heal or recover and may never be the player he was. Yes you have the number one pick and will without a doubt pick the best college quarterback in this year’s draft, Stanford’s Andrew Luck. Yes you are contractually obligated to pay Peyton a truckload of money if he stays on your roster even a few more months.
X’s and O’s, dollars and cents aside, and putting aside as well the age-old axiom that professional sports is a business, one thing that Colt’s owner Jim Ersay must have forgotten is that sports more than any other business, is a people business. Fans pay the money that keeps sports leagues afloat, and the stars are the primary money drawers. Peyton is perhaps the greatest NFL star of the last generation. He is to football what Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were to basketball, what Cal Ripken or Joe DiMaggio were to baseball. He has been a game changer on the field, and an ambassador off the field.
Notice none of the aforementioned players ever got cut. Even when they were past their prime but continued playing out of pride or dedication to their team, they had a spot on the roster. Their contributions to the game and their team were so great, they were rewarded with reciprocal dedication and an opportunity to retire from the team they loved and devoted so much to. Those players played for team owners who recognized the value of a talented and decent sports figure transcended contractual considerations or points on the scoreboard. Greatness demands decency, and Peyton deserves far more than he has received from the Colt’s organization.
Manning has indicated an intention to transition into coaching when his playing days are over. What should have happened when his playing days were undoubtedly finished is that he be given an opportunity to coach for the team he gave so many wins to. Nowhere else would you find such an accomplished and experienced guide for tomorrow’s great players. What an honor for future quarterbacks to be coached by Peyton Manning! Great players do not often make great coaches, but Peyton deserved at the very least a career that ended with the same team it started with.
Instead, the team that once dishonored itself and the league by packing up and leaving Baltimore in the middle of the night, has now found a new low by cutting one of the greatest and most beloved players of all time. This follows months of disrespect, as Peyton was not consulted nor even briefed on the hiring decisions regarding the new head coach or general manager. There wasn’t even a formal introduction, with Peyton literally bumping into the new GM at the training facility and having to ask “who are you?”
Like most fans, I find myself hoping that Manning gets healthy so he can first and foremost live a comfortable life. Beyond that I sincerely wish that he sign on with another team in the same division, so he can remind the Colts twice a year of what a shortsighted move they made. Besides, I want another jersey I can wear proudly. The Colt’s just made the old number 18 something to give away.
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