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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Beauty And Brutality

Perhaps "brutality" is a strong word here, but football is a tough game. It's gritty and costly, and usually painful. On the other hand, there is a big-picture artistry about it that few sports match. I've always said that people who say football players and fans are stupid are short-sighted; there is an underlying logic to the game that some of the nation's keenest minds have mastered. The great Peyton Manning has led his team to the Super Bowl once more. When this legend finally steps aside from the quarterback position, it will likely be only because his body has betrayed him.

Today, we actually saw two legends in the same game, and both have reached the second half of their 30s. Tom Brady, a golden boy who led his Patriots to a Super Bowl victory in his rookie season in 2001--and was victorious in two others, while losing in 2 Super Bowls also--always seems to be knocking at the door. At 36, there are more sporting days behind than ahead, but even the casual fan should count the days remaining as a privilege.

Manning is the prototype, the model for this era of what a quarterback is: a physically gifted tactician who wins by out-thinking and out-matching his adversaries. Brett Favre was the warrior, the reckless wild card you wanted on your side to pull out a tight one. Manning is in many ways the anti-Favre: there's nothing "backyard" about his game. On the other hand, it is almost certain that most of Favre's records will belong one day to Manning. Also, if Peyton ever thought about it in an unguarded moment, he'd probably resent the notion he isn't as tough as Favre, and isn't as universally loved (at least right now). But part of that is the price of being drafted #1, of being Archie Manning's son, of playing on dominant teams at every level. Even now, in terms of wins and losses in the postseason, his record stands at 10-11. I've criticized him and rooted against him the whole way. Sooner or later though, someone is going to say, "How good do you have to be, just to play in that many meaningful games?"

Favre the Gunslinger got more slack than he deserved, because he added to his great skill the distinction of being the Cal Ripken of his sport, starting every game for better than 18 years. Truthfully though, we haven't given Manning enough. If he wins a second championship on February 2, the revision of his story will happen very quickly, long before he walks away. I'll be the first to help.

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