I’ve never been so satisfied by the outcome of a game that did not feature one of my favorite teams. Why? Because this time I was rooting for a player—Peyton Manning, the so-called “Sheriff” of the NFL. Yesterday was the perfect culmination of an 18-year NFL career, vividly illustrating that most beautiful of narrative arcs: the exaltation of the humble. Here is a guy who has always done it “the right way.” Of course, we hear that phrase frequently regarding various athletes, but nowhere is it more aptly applied than in the case of Manning.
Unfortunately, Cam Newton illustrated the inverse principle: the arrogant shall be humbled. Many of us cringed when we saw his pre-game garb, featuring flashy gold “MVP” shoes, which brought to mind the biblical proverb, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips” (Pr. 27:2). Then there was Newton’s post-game presser. Ugh. (Sports columnist Bill Reiter nails it here, I think.) Newton is not a bad guy. He’s just an immature 26-year-old who needs to master his emotions in public. He’ll grow up and hopefully become a model of professionalism. Twenty years from now, he’ll cringe at how he behaved yesterday—just like
we all cringe at how we behaved in our twenties. Thankfully, most of us don’t have our youthful petulance broadcast for millions of people to see!
Newton’s lack of maturity and composure serves as a sharp contrast to Peyton Manning’s classy comportment which he’s displayed his entire career (with a few exceptions), including after tough Super Bowl losses. During the Broncos’ playoff run this post-season, Manning’s humility has been especially evident, as he’s consistently (and correctly) insisted that Denver’s defense was leading the team, rather than his QB prowess. But this, too, contributed to the beauty of the Manning career narrative. How fitting that he would conclude his career (yes, I’m assuming he’s retiring) by winning a Super Bowl on the strength of his team’s defense when for so many years Manning dominated at QB on a Colts team with a weak defense (which possibly cost him an additional ring or two).
Also, it is interesting to note that Manning’s final pass of the game yesterday was a completion for a 2-point conversion. If that turns out to be the final pass of his career, then this too is fitting. Not only was it perfectly thrown, but the 2-point conversion is, appropriately, a play that provides an “added bonus” point. And that’s precisely what Peyton Manning has been, not just for NFL football but the sports world generally, for the better part of two decades—a real bonus.
So kudos to the Broncos for winning it all. But especially congratulations to the class of the NFL, Peyton Manning. Hats off to you, Sheriff, as you ride off into the sunset of a stellar career.