It happened to me on a much smaller scale about a year ago. My ability to stay up late and bang out stories for work or this site began to deteriorate. I work nights at a newspaper, and I used to do my best work after my shift while most of the world was sound asleep. Now I find myself waking up more and more after having fallen asleep on the couch and doing work in the morning, a concession to getting older. My passion and energy for my writing hasn’t waned, but I have to listen to my body more, and sometimes it makes schedule decisions for me.
Getting old happened to me over an extended period, and no one would have known when I wrote anything if I hadn’t just shared my story.
Peyton Manning got old in a matter of weeks on national television. It happens to the best of them, and it’s the worst part about sports.
I won’t sit here and pretend to be a Peyton Manning fan. Other than Patriots fans, who don’t count, there might not be a bigger critic of Manning alive than me. Of course he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but I was beating the drum about his playoff failures long before anyone else in the national media seemed to catch on in the last couple of years, and it frustrated me to the point where I became maniacal about it. Then, when I dared pick him in the Super Bowl last year and he made me look silly, my criticism got louder and louder.
But watching him struggle Sunday, unable to summon any of the physical and mental abilities which made him a star in the NFL, was sad. He was a shot fighter whose legs had wearied. He was the pitcher who fires a pitch and knows his arm has used its last bit of energy but still tries to finish the inning, only to give up the big hit, like Pedro Martinez in 2003.
Peyton Manning didn’t quit Sunday. His body, which has been quitting on him for the last few weeks, decided it had had enough. In the process, we as fans all got a little older. The quarterback we’d watched for parts of three decades was no longer. By the third quarter, rooting against Manning, usually one of my favorite sports hobbies, was no longer fun. The Peyton Manning I enjoyed cheering against was not the man wearing No. 18.
In the days ahead, we’ll find out for sure what has been ailing Manning lately. There are already reports of a torn muscle in his leg. Maybe his neck is hurting, or his legs have strains which come from playing football for your whole life but stop going away after you hit 35 or so. He could even decide to retire, and part of me hopes he does, but not for the reason you might think.
When I was young, Mike Tyson was the “baddest man on the planet” and one of the reasons I fell in love with boxing. He could destroy anything in his path like a tornado. I was still 11 when a disinterested and ill-prepared Tyson lost to Buster Douglas in the sport’s biggest upset. But Tyson just had a bad night, he wasn’t yet old. He came back and tore through competition before going to jail and missing four years of his career. Again, Tyson became a force, even after losing once and then getting himself disqualified in the “Bite Fight.”
Tyson didn’t look old until he was beaten soundly by Lennox Lewis in 2002. He won one more joke of a fight, then lost in both 2004 and 2005 to fighters who wouldn’t have lasted a minute with the Tyson of 15 years earlier. The last image anyone has in the ring of the man I once was awed by was Tyson quitting on his stool. His youth was gone, and with it part of mine.
When I think of Tyson now, I want to think of the man who obliterated Michael Spinks, not the guy who has a cartoon on Adult Swim now. Which is why I want Manning to retire. For all his warts in the postseason, I want to remember the guy who played in countless big games during the early part of my adulthood all the way through the time when my hair starting going gray.
He usually didn’t win the big game at the end, but Manning deserves better than to be the guy who hangs on too long and bounces from team to team like Brett Favre. Joe Namath never should have been a Ram, Joe Montana shouldn’t have had to leave the 49ers and the legacy of Johnny Unitas shouldn’t include a stint with the Chargers.
Some questioned last night whether the Broncos would even consider releasing Manning. They’re crazy, but the argument even coming up means it’s over. There’s no need for Manning to fight for two more years and eventually quit on his stool as a shell of himself.
Even I don’t want to see him get knocked out again.