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Much Ado About Manning


Controversy spurs a surprise mailbag


By Adam Hoff


No sooner had I put the finishing touches on my analysis of the Indianapolis Colts past, present, and future, when the inevitable reverse bashing began.  By this I am, of course, referring to the deluge of pro-Peyton Manning columns and shows that hit the Internet and airwaves late last week.  Last Sunday, Manning was sailing balls into the fourth row, ignoring his coach, being a baby on the field, mismanaging the clock, and then blaming his teammates after the game.  Quite a show.  On Monday and Tuesday, everyone (myself included) came out guns blazing, criticizing Manning for his performance, his inability to come through when it mattered most, his behavior, his art collection, and his fourth grade book report.  Needless to say, people were piling on.  By Wednesday, the anti-Peyton sentiment had become so intense that the flow suddenly reversed and the stories started popping up in support of Number 18.  The pieces ranged from coming to Manning’s defense to deciding it was time to take a shot at Tom Brady (maybe the most bizarre column in a long time, as SI’s Dr. Z went after a guy that is now 10-1 in the playoffs with three rings). 


Such is the state of sports journalism.  There is so much space to fill and so many writers and reporters and radio hosts and talking heads all vying for attention that stories cycle through at warp speed.  Everyone wants an angle and a new take and a way to stand out.  So first it was a race to write the most inflammatory and brutal and incisive column attacking Manning.  Then, when that got old (after 48 hours), people started flipping and flopping and going the other way.  Just downright crazy.  I suppose since I write an Internet sports column and take some shots at people from time to time (Manning included), I qualify as part of the problem.  To be honest, I’m not even sure what to do about it. 


The point is, I got more than a few emails about Mr. Manning.  In those emails I was called several names, received a few mild threats, and had my sanity and intelligence questioned in colorful ways.  The main thrust of the criticism: how can you follow the herd and pile on Manning?  Along with, “He’s a good guy and a great quarterback, why can’t people leave him alone.”  I won’t list all the emails, but that is the long and short of it.  And here is my collective response:


I have no doubt that Peyton Manning is a good guy.  He seems polite during interviews, his commercial is pretty funny, and there were some great stories about his efforts during Hurricane Katrina.  I don’t think anyone is saying that he’s a bad person.  After all, there are people like Terrell Owens and Ron Artest playing pro sports, so nobody really needs to cast someone like Manning in that light.  Additionally, no one is saying that he isn’t a very good quarterback.  He has amassed amazing numbers during his career and you only have to watch him a handful of times to see how smart and talented he is. 


That said, there is something about Manning that rubs people the wrong way.  There just is.  I can’t say for sure, but I think it boils down to one thing: Peyton Manning acts like the entitled rich kid you knew growing up.  He is petulant.  He is all smiles until somebody on his team screws up and then he tears into them.  He thinks he is the coach of his team and that he can do whatever he wants.  He is arrogant to a fault (for evidence of this, just look at the way he audibled out of plays and went for the end zone instead of getting a few more yards for Vanderjact’s field goal attempt).  There is an air about him that screams, “I think I am better than everyone else.”  Throw in the fact that the Mannings made everyone sick with the whole “Eli won’t play in San Diego” ordeal and there you go.  I honestly believe that he is just unlikable to a lot of people and that those same people lie in wait for the chance to take him down a notch.  Constant choking in big playoff games offers that very chance.  So that’s that. 


While we’re here, let’s answer some more mail.


“On your blog, you made a halftime mention of that pass interference call against Samuel in the Pats game.  Then you mentioned it again in the Colts column.  I thought it was a bad call and the Patriots are my favorite team, but the reason they lost was the sudden influx of turnovers, not that call.”


Can you tell these emails are a few days old?  That’s what happens when the NFL plays a round of the playoffs before you can empty out the inbox. 


Anyway, as for your point about the turnovers being the real factor, I respectfully disagree.  And for the record, this is the view held my most people about that call and that game.  “Yeah, they blew it, but five turnovers is the real story.”  I guess you can say that when you look at the stat sheet, but not when you examine how the game unfolded. 


First, the call was hideous.  There is no other word.  It was late, it was made by the wrong guy, and it was woefully inaccurate.  Not only did Samuel play perfect defense, he was pushed about six times by Ashley Lelie.  A “no call” would still have been wrong.  That was blatant offensive interference.  Plus, it was the classic end zone flag, so it put the ball at the one for a virtually automatic touchdown.  A 3-0 game was suddenly 7-3.  But that is only the obvious damage.  That is only the tip of the iceberg.  


Had it not been called, the Broncos would have punted and the Pats would have had the ball.  Instead, they scored and kicked off, prompting a runback (which wouldn't have happened on the punt, because given the field position, it would have been one of those punts that either died inside the five or bounced into the end zone.  Unless Brad Maynard was kicking of course, then it would have rolled dead at the 32).


Anyway, that kick return led to the deadly Ellis Hobbs “second fumble in 18 seconds,” which in turn led to Denver's field goal and the 10-3 lead.  Instead of trailing 10-3 at the half, the Pats would have been up 3-0 (at the very least, since they could have and probably would have put points on the board with their last drive).  Completely different game.  They would have been up (at least) 6-0 when Brady faced that third and goal, and he never would have forced the pass knowing that they could just kick a field goal to go up my more than seven.  A 9-0 lead late in the third quarter would have certainly caused the inevitable Plummer implosion that we wound up watching yesterday against Pittsburgh.


Whenever I tell people that it was the worst call I'd seen in recent memory (right up until the overturned Manning pick in the Colts-Steelers game), they immediately wave me off by saying that it "wasn't the officials that beat the Patriots."  They site the fumbles and the mistakes and say that the Patriots beat themselves, but I don't buy it.  Other than the inexcusable Faulk cough up, none of the other mistakes would have happened.  That single horrendous PI call won the game for Denver.  It's as simple as that.


(And given the dump that the Broncos took on the field yesterday, I think we can all safely say that we wish that call had gone differently.  Something tells me that Steelers at Pats, Part II would have been a game for the ages.)


Who do you like?  The surprise six seed Steelers or the first time ever Seahawks?


I will be breaking this down over on the blog during the next few weeks, but my immediate gut feeling is that the Seahawks will win this game.  The Steelers can’t possibly play any better than they have the last three weeks, while Seattle is just now working out the kinks.  Plus, the ‘Hawks defense is built perfectly to put pressure on Big Ben, make a few picks, and dare the running game to beat them.  Hasselbeck seems to be evolving into the next Troy Aikmen, the Seattle receivers no longer appear to be suffering from the “Dropsies” (aided by the emergence of tight end Jeremy Stevens and the additions of Bobby Engram and Joe Jurivicious), and Shaun Alexander made a lot of “experts” look stupid when he ran all over a tough Panthers D.  I like this Pittsburgh team and think they will be a tough out, but I like Seattle by the count of 27-21.


Better performance: Kobe going for 81 or Alton running with that rickshaw on the MTV Real World-Road Rules challenge?


Normally, you would have to say Kobe, since his performance last night was quite possibly the best single game in NBA history (although I am not convinced that he has the edge over Wilt.  Yes, he was more “efficient” with this shots, but Wilt hauled in 25 rebounds that night.  25!).  However, Alton probably still wins, if only because that moment dragging the rickshaw combined an amazing physical feat with a terrific Seinfeld reference.  “I think he stole our rickshaw!”  “Well, then he’s fired.” 


Who do you like for NBA MVP this year?  Brand is still playing great but he missed some time and the Clippers have tailed off.  Kobe looks good, especially with that freaking 81-point game.


Kobe is definitely the hot name right name.  He’s going for like 45 a game during the month of January and the Lakers are in the playoff mix solely because of his assassin-like scoring.  However, it is hard to imagine either Kobe or his team maintaining this pace.  If the season ended today, he would probably be the guy, simply because of the awe-inspiring play as of late.  However, for the long haul, I am going with a surprising choice …


You know what, let’s just make this the next column.


Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.

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