By: Shawn Davis
On April 21, 1993, a fellow by the name of Joseph Clifford Montana, Jr. was traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs. I vaguely remember the move at the time because sports coverage, then, isn’t even close to what it is now so following the story was a bit of a challenge for a middle school kid. Since I grew up a 49ers fan – born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, no less – it was weird to think of Montana in another jersey. Naturally, I read the local papers and waited for the weekend so I could get the core details of the story from The George Michael Sports Machine. After the program ended, I recall sitting on my bed and staring at my Joe Montana & Jerry Rice wall poster until I fell asleep. It wasn’t easy because I felt a crater forming in my stomach.
As PTI was ending last night, the news of Peyton Manning’s release crawled along the bottom of the screen and that hole opened once more, not to the same degree, but there was a similar feeling. As of noon on March 7, 2012, Manning will no longer have the horseshoe on his helmet and it’s sickening.
People use sports, movies, music, television, drugs, and sex to escape parts of their lives. Some do it in small doses while there are others who look to escape into those avenues on a detrimental level. I absolutely love football above any recreational outlet (besides sex) on the planet but moments like this – when a franchise makes this type of move – make me happy that I DO NOT live and die by what a team (or athlete) does because it could make someone want to run through a wall. Moments like this taint sports for me but I does not shock me at all.
Coverage of Manning’s release has nice little nuggets like “It’s not about the money” and whenever, WHENEVER you read or hear something like that – IT MOST CERTAINLY is about the money. Compounding that point, further reports state that if it was merely a financial decision team owner, Jim Irsay, could have worked with Manning on “restructuring his contract” to be easier on the team’s salary cap. Okay that’s plausible but the elephant in the room was that Irsay never intended on bringing him back…at all. Look at the total makeover he instituted on the franchise; everyone associated with Manning has been purged from the horseshoe. Gone. There’s a blank slate everywhere so there was no doubt in my mind that Irsay would make this move to complete the reboot of his team. If he wanted to truly keep Manning in a Colts uniform he could’ve easily done that and still drafted soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Andrew Luck to be an understudy.
What’s lost in all this noise is that this team was the EXACT team they’ve been…just without Manning under center. Their core is still intact. Where is the football voice in all of this? You put #18 right back in the fold, start next season and you cannot tell me that they don’t make the playoffs as a top-three seed (sorry I’m not buying the Texans as leading the AFC South with a healthy Manning). Is there no one left on the staff that can watch film of the season with an objective eye and realize they are still a contender now that it seems Manning is healthy? I do not think NFL teams pay attention to film – and I’m more convinced of this now. Indianapolis doesn’t need a rebuild, they need to reload but that’s out the window now and it didn’t have to play out this way. I guess I’m wrong though because Luck is so can’t-miss, right? Of course he is because using high draft choices on quarterbacks never backfire, right? Right.
It was a season of circumstances that got the Colts in this position and if they won a few more games (and didn’t have the top pick in the draft) I don’t think I’m even writing this piece. Manning wasn’t able to play last season, the team scrambles to find a competent player under-center (they didn’t), the team absolutely folds and Luck declares for the draft. All those dominoes had to fall for this to even take place. I can understand the position the Colts are in, why they did what they had to do today and I understand why they have to draft Luck. It makes sense. Just because Cam Newton and Andy Dalton played well as rookies, that doesn’t mean Luck will come in and be as solid as they were from day one. Manning could complete his training while still leading a championship contender.
The only time in my life where I was devastated by a team and player going separate ways was when Michael Jordan retired (the first time) on October 6, 1993. There was monumental upheaval in my personal life and Jordan was my escape. Watching him lead the Bulls during the first three-peat alleviated some of the strife that was tearing my family apart. I remember my eyes filling with tears as I watched the press conference so I went to the basketball court to shoot around for a few minutes before I sat on my ball and let the tears hit the pavement. Basketball wasn’t fun anymore – and once he returned so did my love for the sport. His second retirement (which should have been his last) was definitely induced by management – and I’ve just got back to rooting for the Bulls over the last 7-8 years.
A parting of a player and team isn’t easy. Like I said earlier, we are not here if the Colts had a viable backup – and they won 4 games or so. To that point though, how could former Colts architect Bill Polian honestly sign a good player to sit behind Manning? Before last year he never missed a start and it’s almost impossible to entice a promising young qb to come to a team where he has no chance of seeing the field. Most outsiders (myself included) thought Curtis Painter could help them win 6-8 games because he’s been in the system for years but we saw how that went; had Dan Orlovsky played earlier in the season they aren’t picking first in the draft.
Circumstances rule all.
As an adult, now I fully understand the anguish that the 49er fans had to deal with when Montana moved on to Kansas City. After that trade I was torn over who to root for and I was relieved when Montana enacted revenge against San Francisco in a 24-17 victory at Arrrowhead Stadium; later that season I was happy when Steve Young got to lead his own group of 49ers to a Super Bowl victory. I’m a Peyton Manning fan more than I’m a fan of the Colts but in admiring his level of play he made me one – just like Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner made me follow the Rams and then the Cardinals. I like a lot of the players still on the Colts roster but I no longer have a rooting interest in what they do. I wish them well because Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Dallas Clark still play there.
Manning gave me so many moments that I’ll cherish as a football fan – like my other favorite qb’s: Montana, Young and Warner – but my enduring memory will be the 2007 AFC Championship game. The Colts fought back after trailing 21-6 at halftime to beat back the Patriots en route to their Super Bowl 41 victory. Whew! Watching the Patriots jump all over the Colts that Sunday evening left me despondent – and then defiant. I went back to the 1995 NFC title game where I wanted to scream because I wanted to 49ers to finally slay the Cowboys, which they did.
As the halftime analysis was just about kicking dirt on the Colts, I said “No, they are not going to lose this game. Peyton will bring them back.” (I chose to leave out some of the colorful words I used that evening but you get the point.) My cousin Derryke called and said the same thing because we both rooted for the 49ers to overtake Dallas 12 years prior; my girlfriend (at the time) couldn’t understand why I was so upset and I explained to her that the Patriots are standing in Manning’s way of cementing his legacy and the game cannot end in a New England victory. We watched the second half of the game – and the emotional rollercoaster was well worth it because we saw the Colts ascend. Just typing that brings that night back to me; I’d love to get that day back.
I LOVE the game of the football; that’s clear right? So much that it’s hard to have one favorite team but the 49ers and then the Rams are the closest to my heart. The Colts were on that list…not after today. I hope Manning wins two more MVP’s and two more Super Bowl titles in the next three seasons or however long he can play at his level. That’s what I want to happen and I want to make that clear.
When next season opens and Manning is wearing another jersey, it is going to be surreal. But this is sports – and like life – nothing stays the same forever. Thank you, Peyton Manning! Light up the scoreboard and win games like you do. You’re a class act and I’m going to miss seeing you in the dome…that you helped build.
Days like today make sports heartbreaking.