The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

I hate Peyton Manning for a lot of reasons. Reason one: He went to the University of Tennessee. Reason two: He’s in every commercial known to man. Reason three: He went to Tennessee.

But for some reason I still like the guy.

Manning is the epitome of class. He had every opportunity to gloat after finally beating the Patriots, but he didn’t. He lauded the New England’s class and appeared to be grateful for the win.

He had the opportunity to stick it to all the doubters, all those who anointed him as the next Dan Fouts or Dan Marino-great stats, no Super Bowl. But he didn’t. He is the anti-Terrell Owens. He is everything that is right in professional sports.

But for some reason there is a growing contingent of people that hates Manning. They say all he does is choke. These are the same people who blame both wins and losses entirely on quarterbacks, forgetting about the other 21 players on the field.

Take last year’s playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning went 22-38 for 290 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Does that sound like choking to you?

In the game, Manning led the Colts down the field for a game-tying field goal attempt by the NFL’s all-time field goal percentage leader, Mike Vanderjagt, with time running out. Vanderjagt shanked the field goal and Indy lost the game.

All people remember is the Colts lost. And by association, Manning choked. Never mind the near-300-yard mistake-free game. Or that it was his teammate who choked. All that matters is the Colts did not make the Super Bowl that year, and since the quarterback is the only player-er, the most important player-on the team, it was all Manning’s fault.

True, Manning did have one truly dreadful game in the playoffs against the Patriots. It was 2003, and Manning threw four interceptions (three to Ty Law). But who did not struggle against New England’s defense that year? The Patriots led the NFL in opponents’ points per game (14.9), opponents’ passer rating (56.2), interceptions (29) and passing touchdowns given up (11).

Yes, the great quarterbacks rise above such defenses and find a way…but still, the Patriots were just the better team. Plus they were playing at home. With Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Sure he lost his first three career playoff games. And he couldn’t beat Florida in college (and in the cruelest of ironies, the year after he graduated, a guy named Tee Martin-Tee Martin-led the Vols to the national championship). And yes, he had never been to a Super Bowl before this year.

But do you remember how bad the Colts were before Manning got to Indy? They had the first pick in the 1998 draft for a reason. Manning led them to a 13-3 record in his second year. Since 1999, the Colts only missed the playoffs in 2001. He turned around a franchise and all that is left for him to accomplish is a Super Bowl win. Is it not impressive that the guy accomplished pretty much everything there is to accomplish as a quarterback (except for a title ring) by the time he is 30?

Sometimes it just takes a while for players to get over the final hump. It took John Elway until the second-to-last season of his career to win a Super Bowl-and after he won he was suddenly considered one of the top five QB’s of all time, not as a player who could not win the big game. Last year, we watched future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis win a Super Bowl in his final game. It even took Michael Jordan until his seventh pro season to win a title.

It took Jordan three consecutive playoff losses to Detroit before he and the Bulls finally beat the Pistons and went on to earn an NBA title in 1991. What remains to be seen is whether Manning’s first win over his arch-nemesis will open the floodgates like it did for Jordan. Only then will Manning receive the credit he has always deserved.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]