Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Exit lines

I refuse to believe this is where they turn out the lights on Peyton Manning.

I refuse to believe, as some people do, that he simply fades to black now, even though he is tired and wounded and betrayed by a body that will no longer do what an incomparable mind commands. His head can still make all the throws, still defeat any blitz, still unmask any disguise of coverage. His arm, sadly, cannot.

The last we saw of him he was all but tottering off the field last Sunday, unable to throw an out route that didn't flutter like a windblown leaf. His latest injury -- a partially torn plantar muscle in his left foot -- had deprived him of the ability to push off on his plant foot. He's also got a banged-up shoulder. He's also got as ribcage as battered as a child's xylophone.

He is hurt, in on other words, and old beyond his years, and clearly coming up on the end. There are serious people seriously saying right now that his backup, the undistinguished Brock Osweiler, has taken his job for keeps. If so, that is an exit too painful to contemplate for one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and one of the greatest human beings as well.

Peyton Manning standing on the sidelines while Brock Osweiler plays. Who wants to see that?

And so, I refuse to believe it.

I believe Peyton will be back, just like he came back from the four neck surgeries everyone said was the end of him. I believe he will find some way to make his body do what his mind commands one last time. I believe the Broncos will find a way to run the football a little, which will deprive defenses of the ability to simply sit on the narrowing range of things Peyton can still do, which will give him one last fighting chance to go out the way he deserves.

Which is, as some semblance of the Peyton we all remember. Which is, as something besides what he is now, a faded relic limping toward the finish as Brock Osweiler's understudy.

I refuse to believe that's how it ends for him. I refuse to believe there isn't at least one more shining moment out there to usher Peyton toward the first-ballot induction into Canton that is his clear destiny.

Of course, I used to believe in Santa Claus, too.

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