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Is Manning Headed for Unhappy Ending?

March 20, 2012
Joe Namath

Joe Namath ended his career on gimpy knees on the L.A. Rams sideline.

Quick, name all the NFL stars who have changed teams late in their careers to huge success. Not so fast, Brett Favre fans.

Today future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning — four days shy of his 36th birthday — becomes the latest NFL legend to try to make the jump from the franchise that made him a legend – and that he made great in return – to success in another city as he signed that five-year $96 million contract with the Denver Broncos. Almost nobody thinks Manning will last five years, or see all that Mile High money. Even Manning said at his press conference that “this is a ‘now’ situation.”

But even in the now, history doesn’t look favorably on the Manning move. He need look no farther than another Colts legend to see what the future might hold. After 17 largely brilliant years with the then Baltimore Colts, Johnny Unitas left to play one more year with the San Diego Chargers at age 40. He played just five games and completed only 45 percent of his passes. He retired following that 1973 season.

Joe Namath was the first NFL mega-star of my lifetime. I was born just before the 1968 season in which he led the Jets to a Super Bowl win (over a Colts team playing largely without an injured Unitas) and I don’t remember him in his prime. But I remember all the commercials, and the fame and unfortunately the four games he limped on those awful knees around the L.A. Coliseum as a Los Angeles Ram. He was 2-2 in those games and completed 47 percent of his passes. He was 34 years old.

At least we don’t have to worry about Manning limping. He hasn’t moved fast enough to limp in the last three or four of his healthy seasons. He showed off his new No. 18 Broncos jersey today. The number had been retired for former Broncos great Frank Tripucka. Tripucka released the number for Manning and you wonder if from a mobility standpoint, once Manning puts his helmet on you could tell him from Frank, who is now 84.

Back to Favre. Either his story or Joe Montana’s is a best case situation for Manning. Manning leaves for much the same reason that Favre and Montana left the franchises where they made their fame – a younger player too good to let go in the cases of Aaron Rogers and Steve Young, and too good to pass up in the case of certain-as-death-and-taxes No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck. Favre after “retiring” from the Packers played eight pretty good weeks for the New York Jets before arm problems limited him and limited the Jets’ ability to make the playoffs. Then he had one great year for Minnesota – his innate Brett Favreiness leaving him one game shy of the Super Bowl. His last year in Minnesota he was a shell of his greater self; injury and age nearly getting him killed before the Vikings season mercifully ended.

O.J. Simpson

Nobody ever imagined that THIS would be the way we wished we could remember O.J. Simpson.

Montana helped produce a 13-3 record and a trip to the AFC championship game in his first year in Kansas City – although he spent some of that season injured. His second year produced a second playoff trip. He retired after those two, one short of the three-year contract he had signed. He was 38.

And there aren’t enough words to talk about all the running backs who have unfortunately tried for one more year. The only thing that could get the sadness of seeing pictures of O.J. Simpson standing on the sidelines in a San Francisco 49ers uniform out of my mind was the sadness seeing him in the Ford Bronco chase (Why do  Broncos and Colts keep being involved?), and then on trial, and then on trial again.

Neither Favre nor Montana arrived at their new franchise with the questions that surround Manning from a health standpoint. There are still concerns about how far his neck has come since the multiple surgeries that sidelined him last season. Even he said at his press conference today that he isn’t as far along as he’d like to be. But he will start. John Elway made that clear when he said that the Broncos don’t have a “Plan B.”

I hope it works out for Manning. I have some friends in Indianapolis who run in the same social circles as Manning and they say he’s a great guy. That’s all the evidence I need to believe it’s true. Beyond that, there is no denying the good he has done for the city of Indianapolis and for the franchise that let him go (the only sane financial decision for the Colts to make).

I hope it works out for the fans – the loyal Broncos fans who pay the money to go to games knowing that their franchise is one awkward hit from being quarterback free…again, and for NFL fans in general.

And I hope it works out for Manning’s legacy. One hobbling NFL legend is all I really needed to see in my lifetime.

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From → NFL, Sports

2 Comments
  1. Good read. I think this is similar to the Joe Montana situation. People have revised history with Montana and now pretend that he was cut loose simply because of Steve Young. In fact, Montana was thought to be finished by a lot of people because of arm troubles. He had missed all of one season and most of the next because of his elbow. Even though he passed his physicals, there were serious questions about his arm strength and the elbows ability to hold up.

    I remember Namath in those days, and he was finished before he got to LA. He had been ineffective for the Jets for several years, and his knees were so bad that he couldn’t run. He actually swam instead of trying to run. If Manning is healthy (BIG if), he’s going to be a huge upgrade for Denver. Like Montana, I question whether he has the pieces around him to take the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

    I think the Broncos get two years out of Manning, assuming the neck doesn’t shorten it. He’ll certainly try to make the second year of his contract if for no other reason to hit the big payday.

  2. I like your line about “innate Bret Favreiness”. I argued Favre went out how he would want to on that play, laughingly, and no one got the joke. (Yes he played another year, but that play had a door slamming feel to it.) He threw an interception across his body, they said to me, as if talking to a small child. 20 years after he should have known better, I agreed. He was great to get you to that point but you were always risking him thinking he could do a little bit more. Than he could or than anyone should try. I hope Manning does well. I was annoyed he picked Denver. I was hoping Houston would make a play for him so he could have a chance at least to be relevant, and because I can’t remember a season ever going by where the words “Matt Schaub” and “injured” were not linked closely. So taking a chance on Manning with a strong team would have made sense. Hopefully he can finish his career playing well and healthy anyway. Like you said.

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