The Home Team: If he were Peyton Manning ...
Tuesday morning in the dog park, my friend Larry said to me, “If I were Peyton Manning, I’d announce my retirement right now. No doubt about it. He’d be crazy not to.” (Yes, you’ve noticed, and it’s true: All my seminal conversations these days take place either in the dog park or the gym.)
Everyone who tuned in to the Super Bowl last Sunday saw two potential outcomes. There was the story everyone expected: The Carolina Panthers would win and begin a mini-dynasty, and that Cam Newton, already recognizied as this year’s Most Valuable Player, would take on the mantle as The Next Great Quarterback and become the face of the NFL for at least 10 years.
And then there was the fairytale story (excuse me, narrative; apparently we don’t have stories anymore, only narratives) everyone was hoping for: that the Broncos would win, and Peyton Manning would retire — going out on top as the quarterback of the Super Bowl champions.
Well, the Broncos held up their end of the bargain, but Peyton’s immediate fairytale exit? Not so fast. When CBS’s Tracy Wolfson stuck the mike in front of Manning’s face right after the Broncos finished off the Panthers and asked him if this was his last rodeo, the Sheriff said he was going to “drink a lot of Budweiser and reflect on things” with his family.
If Peyton decides there’s still a little more gas in the tank and opts to come back with either Denver (not very likely, is what I hear from my sports talk radio sources) or with the Los Angeles Rams (somewhat more likely), will he be the first big-name athlete to be deaf to everyone’s plea for the fairytale ending? Not by a long shot. A whole roster of big names comes to mind, and this is without any prompting from Google.
Everyone wanted Brett Favre to hang ‘em up after his brilliant career quarterbacking the Green Bay Packers. When he came back to play with first the New York Jets, then the Minnesota Vikings, after what had become a laughable soap opera of on-again, off-again “retirements,” everyone thought he’d made a fool of himself, and tarnished his legacy. But somehow, this year he managed to get elected to the National Football League Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Legacy shmegacy.
Jimmy Connors won his last “Major” — the U.S. Open — in 1983, at age 31. He was urged by pretty much everyone in tennis to retire shortly thereafter. Yet he played on well into his 30s and, in one of the most remarkable comebacks for any athlete, reached the semi-finals at the Open in 1991 at age 39. I doubt very much he regrets “hanging on.”
Willie Mays hung around for eight seasons after the last year he batted over .300, ending up by hitting .211 with the New York Mets in 1973. But show me a baseball fan who doesn’t still consider Mays one of the five greatest players ever.
Basketball fans see Tim Duncan’s numbers diminishing. Tennis fans feel Roger Federer is losing too often in the finals for their liking. If Duncan and Federer keep on playing, they’ll be ruining everyone’s “narrative.”
But here’s the thing. Tim Duncan loves playing basketball. Roger Federer loves playing tennis. Peyton Manning loves playing football. This is pretty much all they’ve ever done. Maybe they want to keep doing it until they have to get carted off the field. Like it or not, most pro athletes are wired this way.
You can say Peyton Manning has a lot of choices if he retires as a player. He could probably be a successful coach, like his current coach, former Denver quarterback Gary Kubiak. Or a successful football executive, like another famous former Denver quarterback, the great John Elway. Or a successful TV analyst, a la John Gruden. Lord knows he’s already great in commercials. (“Chicken parm you taste so good” is still endlessly looping through my head.)
But maybe he wants to just keep playing.
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, before the Super Bowl, said, “Everybody wants to see him (Manning) go out and perform at a high level, and kind of ride off into the sunset.” My friend Larry says Manning “would be crazy not to retire.”
Me? I say Peyton should do whatever the hell he wants.
“The Home Team” appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank’s adventures on his blog, “Beagle Man,” on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman. To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.