Relative Genius: Roethlisberger 2, Manning 1

Did you know that Colts quarterback Peyton Manning watches hours and hours of the 1990s TV drama Dawson’s Creek?  He watches so much Dawson’s Creek that his wife often finds him passed out in front of the television with the remote in his hand in the wee hours of the morning. Peyton even orders rookies to show up at the Colts’ practice facility at 8 a.m. the day after they’ve been drafted so they can soak up the teen angst and heartbreak of Dawson, Pacey and the gang together.

Who didn’t love the Creek? Every high school kid in the ‘90s brought in this Tiger Beat tear-out to their Supercuts stylist and said, “See that? Yeah, that’s what I want right there. Shroom, highlights. I’m so money.”

Actually, I’m just kidding. Peyton isn’t obsessed with Dawson’s Creek. He does, however, devote an obscene amount of his time to analyzing football games. He cares so much about football—so much about winning—that he once berated a teammate for leaving a practice to attend the birth of his daughter. Manning asked his teammate why he couldn’t have babies in the off-season.

The media eats this stuff up. They lavish Manning with superlatives like “genius” and “legend,” not to mention the ultimate gridiron exaltation: competitor. Their voices quiver as they say it. They do this because football is Serious Business. Since Manning devotes so much of his waking life to breaking down zone blitz schemes and obsessively analyzing the tendencies of backup linebackers, he is a savant worthy of our eternal admiration—newborns be damned. That stuff about Peyton falling asleep with the remote in his hand and demanding that rookies show up for pre-dawn film sessions is all true.

Substitute Manning’s compulsive devotion to football for almost any other hobby in the world—be it videogaming, Frolf, pogs or watching crappy 90s TV shows, and you might assume he was an obsessive-compulsive weirdo. Instead, he’s a role model for every overbearing, tracksuit-wearing Football Dad you’ve ever met.

Manning embodies everything that is wrong with today’s NFL, if not the world. He is hyper-competitive, self-serious and overexposed. Worse yet, he never seems like he’s having any fun.

On the field, Manning’s demeanor wavers somewhere between anxiety attack and Clint Eastwood’s expression during the last 15 minutes of Million Dollar Baby. He’s like the anti-Brett Favre.

“Shucks, I’m just havin’ fun out here.”

That’s why the ending of Super Bowl XLIV was so sweet. Because before Manning threw the interception that clinched the game, his butt was clenched tighter than a Heinz ketchup lid. All the traits that supposedly made him an elite quarterback—his seriousness and obsessive devotion and unhinged competitiveness—ultimately led to his downfall.

He just couldn’t keep his cool. For Manning, it truly wasn’t just a game anymore. Leading 10-0 in the first quarter and staring history in the face, Manning could have joined the rarified air of Montana, Elway and Brady, if only he could have imagined Sun Life Stadium as a backyard in October. If only he could have imagined Super Bowl 44 as what it really was all along—a game. If only he could have had an ounce of fun.

In a world of two-a-day middle school football practices, college football coaches courting 13-year-old kids and high school quarterbacks staying after school to study playbooks instead of Algebra books, perhaps Manning’s failure will show young athletes that sometimes you can take the game too seriously.

Not to discount the value or hard work, but a healthy balance is key. After all, when Ben Roethlisberger was asked how he was able to engineer his last minute, 78-yard drive to win Super Bowl 43 under such immense pressure, Ben laughed and said, “I was just playing backyard ball.”

And his play call on Santonio Holmes’ famous Immaculate Extension? Throw all the game tape out the window. It was more sandlot than Samsung:

“Scramble left, scramble right—get open,” Roethlisberger said.

Boom.

Unfortunately, any hopeful notion that football could ever return to simpler times was crushed about five minutes after the Super Bowl ended when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter attributed his interception of Mr. Manning to (wait for it)… “Great film study.” While Manning was analyzing Porter’s every tendency, Porter was analyzing Manning’s. This is all getting a bit too Orwellian.

So much for the days of Jack Lambert chain smoking at halftime. Heck, if you consider the way that quarterbacks are now coddled by the new NFL rules, not to mention the advancements in video game technology, maybe the NFL should just settle all this football business on the old Xbox. No one would ever need to leave the film room.

In real life, Manning has now lost as many playoff games as he has won (9-9) and wears one Super Bowl ring. Roethlisberger is 8-2 in the playoffs and wears two rings.

One man is regarded as an unquestioned legend, and the other is apparently the best damn backyard quarterback in American history (and, depending on which ESPN personality you talk to, perhaps as good as the Chargers’ Phil Rivers).

Figure that one out. Be sure have some Excedrin on hand.

Me, I’d rather revel in the fact that the Steelers have added two more Lombardi trophies to Mr. Rooney’s mantle this decade. Let’s leave Mr. Manning’s much fawned over “Football I.Q.” and his place in NFL history up to the pundits.


Wait a minute… DAWSON?!


And finally, a sign of the ever-approaching (Snow)pocalypse:

Just days before the Super Bowl, local t-shirt makers in New Orleans got a letter from the NFL demanding that they stop selling shirts featuring the traditional cheer of New Orleans Saints fans – “Who Dat?”

“Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” is the full battle cry.

But ‘Who Dat’ owns the trademark to this multi-million dollar rhetorical phrase? The NFL thinks Dey Do, and are apparently willing to sue $5 t-shirt vendors so they can staple on a gleaming silver tag to the same shirt and sell the “official” one for $25.

Had it been the Steelers in the Super Bowl instead of the Saints, the NFL would’ve had to send in paramilitary troops to the Strip District to cleanse the city of phony merchandise. If the NFL ever figures out a way to copyright Samoan haircuts, all of our precious Polamalu wigs will surely be confiscated.

“I’m only going to ask you one more time, Mr. Donachowski.
Where’s the wigs. WHERE’S THE WIGS?!”

Stay sane, Steeler Nation. Don’t let yourself go, Peyton.

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