In his nearly two decades of play, Peyton Manning has captivated an entire generation of football fans who normally would never tune in to a single Sunday showdown. Thanks to countless commercials, hysterical guest appearances — Manning’s “United Way” spoof is easily the best skit on Saturday Night Live — and a dash of Louisiana charm, Americans who were not football fans became Manning enthusiasts within minutes of watching arguably the best quarterback of the last 20 years sling the ball.
In short, everyone came to love Manning, for both his persona and his play. Unless their team was playing against him that week, Americans have cheered him on for years.
That’s why after this season, we should hope Manning never plays another down of football ever again.
They say legends never die, but Manning’s performance in the first two months of this NFL season is beginning to kill this legend. For the first time since his rookie season, Manning is on pace to throw more than 25 interceptions in a season. His passes wobble. His footwork has slowed.
Even Manning’s brain — once touted as the most highly calibrated mind in the game — has begun to show cracks. In his game last week against the Browns, Manning threw three interceptions to linebackers. Linebackers. Not only can the 39-year-old veteran no longer throw deep, he struggles to make the right reads at medium and short distances.
We were once awed by Manning’s ability to orchestrate up-tempo offenses for full-field touchdown drives that boasted tight spirals and keen reads. But that wonder has been replaced with the cringing feeling we feel every time one of Manning’s passes wobbles helplessly from a surgery-riddled arm.
As Manning fights the inevitable side effects of age in pursuit of another title, his fans watch a once-great quarterback meander slowly toward his expiration date. It’s an experience no sports fan should have to endure — watching his idol go out not in a blaze of glory, but rather in a painstakingly slow and drawn-out whimper.
Which leads us to beg: Don’t do this to us, Peyton, please. We’ve been through it before.
Fans suffered through two years of Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs, shielded their gaze from a couple of seasons of Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards jersey and rolled their eyes while barely tolerating four seasons of waiting for Brett Favre to finally decide to retire. When the time comes, fans want to see their favorite stars exit stage left with dignity and grace — not tumble awkwardly into the audience thanks to a herniated disc they suffered back in act three.
What’s more, the alternative to stars like Manning struggling at the end of their careers has so much upside. Like Cinderella in football cleats, Michael Strahan left the league the moment his career clock struck midnight. He was on top of the world, had a newly won Super Bowl ring in hand and parlayed his elegant exit into a charming television career. On the contrary, Manning would be lucky to grip a microphone hard enough to do color commentary for ESPN 8 “The Ocho.”
Some might say Manning would be crazy to leave next year. Despite the fact that his 40th birthday will come next season, Manning has miraculously kept Denver undefeated at 7-0. But legends like Peyton are not meant to rely on their defense to bail them out of games.
But the biggest issue with Manning going 7-0 this season is that next year, if he chooses to come back at the age of 40, things could get even worse for him. We aren’t ready for that. The pain of having to watch a decrepit Manning throw four, possibly five interceptions per game would be cruel and unusual punishment for a fan base that would rather relish in the memory of moments like Manning’s NFL record seven touchdown passes from just two years ago.
Manning has done football fans a great service during his 18-year Hall of Fame career. He put on record-setting performances, cultivated a legendary rivalry with the likes of Tom Brady that made for A-plus entertainment and developed one of the most loyal fan bases any player in any sport has ever seen. Now, the all-time great has an opportunity to achieve one last moment of greatness in the eyes of all football fans by retiring.
Jimmy McLaughlin is a sophomore in the College. Upon Further Review appears every other Tuesday.