It’s never easy rooting against All-American apple pie, but in today’s world courageous stands against ignorance and myopia have never been more important. And so the time has come to point accusing fingers at those of you who have happily drunk the Peyton Manning Kool-Aid. The sports media tell us at every opportunity how great NFL quarterback Manning is – the love and adulation heaped on this guy at times feels on a par with the praise lavished on Michael Jordan in the 1990s. Which is just ridiculous – Jordan won six rings, Manning’s won zero. Put simply, this is the time when all good men and women must begin to root against aw-shucks good-‘ol-boy Peyton Manning.
Herewith are five reasons why Manning deserves none of your respect.
1. Manning is paradoxically overrated. If you look at how much Manning’s accomplished, you’d be suitably impressed. Number one pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Co-MVP in 2003. NFL single-season touchdown leader with 48 in 2004. And yet, when it comes to big-time, high-stakes clutch performances, Manning has been very, very mortal. The Colts are typically extremely good in the regular season only to have the wheels come off in January when the post-season begins. Manning’s thus a combined 3-6 in NFL playoff games. This lack of success in Big Games has dogged Manning since his college days – give him credit: at least he’s consistent in his choke artist tendencies. To be fair, it’s okay to never win a Superbowl – there have plenty of outstanding quarterbacks who have had solid careers without doing so – but it has to be more than a little embarrassing to continue to fail when so many have anointed you as the one of the smartest and most gifted passers to ever play the game. Let’s also not forget the bank Manning makes – the Colts in 2004 gave him the biggest NFL salary ever at the time: $99 million over seven years. So much expectation, so few results.
2. Manning never met a play he didn’t want to audible. Have you seen this guy when he’s under center? It’s nothing but hand gestures and finger pointing taken to hilarious extremes. One wonders if he ever sticks to the play that’s called in the huddle. Certainly there are times when an NFL quarterback sees something in the defense that demands an audible, but it’s only Manning who’s developed this reputation for frantic scrimmage-line arm waving. Frankly, there’s something a little smug and arrogant about it, as if he’s buying into all of the talk about his intelligence and making sure everyone sees how clever and astute he is in reading defenses and adjusting at the last moment. That nonsense can come at a price, of course. A few seasons ago it was reported that Manning’s infinite audibles weren’t only confounding the defenses, but his own teammates.
3. Manning is apparently the only NFL player advertisers want to employ in their spots. There are plenty of recognizable faces playing football (including some, like Tom Brady, who've won Superbowls), but you wouldn’t know it from the advertising. You can’t watch a single commercial pod during an NFL game these days without seeing Manning’s mug working for one sponsor or another. There’s the ESPN Sportscenter and NFL spots with his father and brother (an irritant in and of itself – see #5 below), the Sprint commercial with his stupid mustache disguise (“laser rocket arm”), the DirecTV spots in which he talks to the camera from the field, and the - genuinely amusing - MasterCard spots featuring Manning cheering on everyday workers like paperboys and waitresses. Most of these spots trade on Manning’s purported mild-mannered affability. So it’s particularly jarring when Gatorade Rain uses Manning in a spot that requires an intimidating bad-ass. This is absolutely absurd. Rather than find a truly menacing NFL bully like Brian Urlacher, Gatorade went back to the goofy-faced Louisianan who intimidates with… his brainy audibles? Truth be told, these companies should probably all be boycotted, if only to teach them a lesson.
4. Any problem with the Indianapolis Colts offense has nothing to do with Manning. Watch Manning when a pass goes incomplete or the team fails to convert on third down. He slings his arms around and shakes his head like a petulant four-year-old. It’s never his fault (which seems odd since he’s the one making all of those audibles). He’s brilliant – it’s teammates who fail to elevate themselves to his level that leads to trouble. This tendency was particularly obvious in 2006 following the Colts’ predictable exit from the playoffs – at the post-game press conference Manning awkwardly suggested the real problem lied with his offensive line not giving him time to work his magic. Classy.
5. Manning’s part of a supposed football family dynasty. Not only do we have to endure all of the attention paid to Peyton, but we also have to hear all about his father Archie and brother Eli. This doesn’t just mean having to sit through cutesy big-lug advertising spots that feature all three, but also the annoying inevitability that every article and TV piece about Peyton will sooner or later make the obligatory mention of the family. We get it – they’re all quarterbacks. (Archie never won the big one, either, so maybe it runs in the family.) As a post-script, the true Manning sensibility was perhaps best displayed with daddy Archie got involved in baby Eli’s temper tantrum about wanting to be drafted by the Giants, even though the Chargers had the number one pick and decided to draft him. The look of disgust on Eli’s face holding the Charger jersey (moments before they traded his underachieving ass to the Giants) is priceless – to be so upset to have just been guaranteed millions. What a bunch of jerks.
In sum, let us all join forces to hope that Peyton Manning goes the way of the NFL quarterback who is so far most like him: gunslinger Dan Marino, a guy who racked up lots of honors and statistics but never won a Superbowl. Now that would be something to cheer about.