A recent post on the Indy Star Colts Message board referenced this hack-job column on Peyton Manning, written by Mike Freeman.
Before I get into the article, some background information. From Freeman's CBS Sportsline Bio, we know the following (emphasis added):
Freeman has been a full-time sportswriter for the Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times and the Florida Times-Union covering every aspect of the sports world. Freeman is proud to announce that in his last job as a columnist for the Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla., he twice angered thousands of Gators fans. OK, maybe it was 10,000. OK, maybe several hundred thousand.
So, Freeman has been a sportswriter/columnist in the two cities that are home to the Indianapolis Colts' two chief rivals: the New England Patriots, and the Jacksonville Jaguars! Certainly, no question of objectivity there...
But, it gets even better! As pointed out by message-board member IUColtPacerFAN, Freeman was actually hired by the Indianapolis Star, and then immediately resigned when he was caught lying on his resume. So, this guy shouldn't even be working as a sports columnist, much less having anything published that he has written about any Indianapolis team or player.
Now, with the appropriate background, on to the "column":
There is good news and bad news when it comes to Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, aka Stat Boy.
Because every objective analysis begins with an ad hominem attack on the protagonist...
The good news. The pain for Colts fans has probably subsided by now. It has been many months since Stat Boy cooked in the juices that are the expectations generated by his uber-celeb, pitch-man, face-on-the-TV-every-millisecond visibility.
The man is allegedly a bona fide journalist; why, then, does this article begin with such obvious grammatical errors as a one-sentence paragraph and a sentence fragment? Regardless, his premise is nonsense anyway. Manning only has so much media visibility because of his success on the field, and that on-field success - not the media visibility - that generates expectation of greatness among Indianapolis Colts fans. The Colts made Manning the number-one pick in the Draft, amid all the obvious media hoopla, yet Colts fans did not hold Manning to the same level of expectation then as the one to which he is held today. The difference between then and now is that, then, Manning joined a horrid team, but now, has been instrumental in turning the team into one of the league's perennial best.
You remember that day, don't you? When the Pittsburgh Steelers marched into Indianapolis, twisted Manning in plastic wrap, and punked him in his own palace, leaving him pouting like a Lhasa apso that had just been neutered.
You might recall, the Steelers didn't so much "[march] into Indianapolis" as they marched through the Indianapolis Offensive Line like so much tissue paper, to the tune of 5 sacks for 43 yards. Despite those sacks, and constant pressure, Manning was 22 of 38, for 290 yards and 1 TD, with no INTs - which adds up to a more-than-respectable 90.8 passer rating. Granted, a 90.8 passer rating isn't as good as Manning's 104.1 passer rating for the 2005 season, but it is still better than the passer rating for all but 5 other QBs in the league for 2005. Nor was it Manning's fault that the Colts' defense tanked in the first half - letting Pittsburgh rattle off a 8.4 yards per play in their opening drive, resulting in a touchdown and more than 10 yards per play in their second touchdown drive. Nor could Manning in any way impact the Special-Teams advantage Pittsburgh enjoyed: a 15-yard return to their own 45 on the Steelers' first punt return and another 20-yard return to the Colts' 30 in the second half, penalties and muffed catches by the Colts, touchbacks and downing inside the Colts' 5 by the Steelers. Manning also did not contribute to the Colts' 9 penalties for 67 yards. But, you just go on ahead, drinking the Manning Hater-ade, Freeman.
The bad news. Another NFL season is here, meaning another Stat Boy playoff swoon is likely imminent. Once again, his throwing numbers will be puffed up and glorious. He is, after all, a machine, a walking Gameboy, king of the regular season, destroying odorous clubs like Houston and Tennessee. He deflowers the weak and blows apart hapless defensive backs who have yet to schedule their Lasik surgery.
So, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh - oh, and let us not forget - New England are all "odorous" as well? Every defensive back that Manning faces - and abuses - suddenly needs Lasik? That argument too closely resembles the one (that Freeman will entertain later in his screed) that every game Manning wins is meaningless, while every game he loses is a "big" game. I'm sure Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle (BAL), Rashean Mathis and Terry Cousin (JAX), Leigh Bodden (CLE), Travis Fisher (STL), Asante Samuel (NE), Deltha O'Neal and Tory James (CIN), and Ike Taylor (PIT) are all a bunch of Pop Warner DBs?
Then the playoffs come, and Stat Boy becomes the incredible shrinking quarterback. In big game after big game, his jockstrap tightened as the competition became more intense, whether it was at the University of Tennessee, or in the postseason last year against the Steelers, a game he had no business losing.
Ah, here it is: the old "big game" canard. Let me put this one to rest: in the NFL, every game is a "big" game. Every regular season game represents 6.25% of the team's final record. Lose a game you should or are supposed to win, and you go from being a first-round bye team to being a wild-card team. The Colts don't get a wild-card bye, and homefield throughout the conference playoffs unless Manning plays well in the regular season. Further, as clearly pointed out above, the divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh was a team loss; whatever Manning's contribution to that game, had every Colts player performed even as well as Manning did, the Colts would have won that game, perhaps easily so.
In those moments, when he is supposed to shine, when he is supposed to be Stat-a-licious, Manning rolls up into a big, hunking ball of mediocrity, becoming kin with the ordinary.
Once again: Manning posted a 90.8 passer rating in that game - much better than a "ball of mediocrity" or "kin with the ordinary." In fact, Manning's passer rating was third-best in all of the 2005 post-season.
That's why this season might be one of the biggest in the star's career thus far. Another one of those patented Manning playoff drubbings will lead to almost universal criticism of his game and more out-loud wondering in a gossipy league about the makeup of Manning's heart muscle.
Please do not misunderstand. Manning is good. Manning is great. He will take a grenade to the record books. Construction of the Stat Boy Wing in the Hall of Fame is already under way. Yet we still, all these years later, do not know what Manning is yet. Is he a winner or is he Stat Boy?
Let's get one thing straight: without Manning on the roster, the Colts don't even make the playoffs for the past eight seasons. Manning took a perennial cellar-dweller, and turned it into the winningest team in the league. Manning is the hardest-working, most studious player in the NFL today. He is a fan and student of the game, and invests himself emotionally in each game to such an extent that his reactions to personal and team failure are ridiculed by pissant hacks like Mike Freeman.
The problem for Manning is that he shares the same airspace with another luxury liner in New England's Tom Brady, and there could not be two more different people.
Ah, now we see the real reason for this "column": to pay homage to Tom Brady, like the drooling sycophant Freeman exposes himself to be.
Manning bear-hugs stats as a broken passing record brings a smile to his face. Brady, skinny, personable, kinda quiet, still a little goofy, quotable, has that powerful intangible Manning lacks -- Brady knows how to win.
Do you have even one quote to back up this asinine and slanderous statement that "Manning bear-hugs stats as a broken passing record brings a smile to his face"? Put up or shut up.
There is a reason Brady, despite playing with 5-foot-4 receivers and running backs with hitches in their giddy up, has won Super Bowls while Manning has captured passing titles. Manning has played most of his career with a Hall of Fame wideout, a perennial Pro Bowl running back, a decent offensive line and, recently, a swift defense. Still, zippo in the big game department.
The reason: Adam Vinateri, the "tuck rule", a defense that could win games without the help of their offense. Winning - especially in the playoffs - is a team affair. Just as in the divisional loss to Pittsburgh, most of the Colts' playoff losses (again, that the Colts were in the playoffs even to have a chance to win or lose, is because of Manning) have come because of team failures. Manning is not immune to criticism, but the responsibility is not his to bear alone.
Behind Brady's handsome looks is a cutthroat guy who would steal his grand momma's purse if it meant he could win a Super Bowl. Brady has ridden the wave of Bill Belichick's brain power while willing his team to multiple championships.
Give Brady the same kind of mediocre team that Manning had for his early career, and the ultimate result is the same. Last season, Brady did everything he could to "will" his team to win - including putting up his own "stat-boy" numbers - but it was not enough. Head-to-head, Manning and the Colts absolutely abused Brady and the Pats, in Foxboro, on national television. Mr. Cutthroat was throwing around water cups on the sideline and crying like, well, like idiots such as Mike Freeman accuse Manning of doing, and Mr. Handsome Looks was so dejected he couldn't even face reporters in the post-game press conference.
Brady stood in front of his locker Thursday and was asked what drives him. He gave a smart answer, but when I asked him to explain further, Brady gave an answer that might define why he is who he is and why he is so different from Manning.
"I was a backup quarterback in high school as a freshman, on a team that lost every game," Brady said. "I was seventh string at Michigan. I was fourth string at the Patriots, barely dressed the first year I played. Had to compete every step of the way.
"Because of that, I've had to compete. And I still feel like I'm competing every time I step on the field. I compete against other quarterbacks, I compete against myself, because the expectations continue to go up. I wish I was satisfied at some point, but I don't think any part of my life I'm satisfied. It's a blessing and a curse. A blessing in this career."
Manning and Brady are both intelligent. They both work hard. They study more film than Spielberg. The difference is that there is no silver spoon with Brady. He does not come from NFL family royalty. Brady has had to work hard for every little thing he has gotten.
The insinuation, of course, being that Manning has had a "silver spoon" and that he didn't have to work hard for everything he has gotten. Again, try backing up that insinuation, Freeman.
You cannot define what a winner is. It is not something that can be concocted on a blackboard or diabolically designed in a test tube. Like a Supreme Court justice once said of pornography, you just know it when you see it.
Wow, leave it to Freeman to make "winning" analogous to "pornography". Of course, just as Justice Stewart was wrong about pornography, so is Freeman wrong about winning. The definition of "winning" is actually quite clear; sports fans usually refer to this metric as "scoreboard".
Brady is a winner. So far, Manning is not.
In so declaring, obviously, you have assumed "Super Bowl winner" as the definition of "winner". Such a definition is fine, but why not just state it?
Manning is a huge talent and box office draw but his 3-6 playoff record makes him Adam Sandler. Brady's multiple Super Bowl wins mean he is Denzel or De Niro. He's been da bomb. He takes his shrimpy receivers and tells the stats to shove it.
Again, what part of "team sport" do you not understand?
Several years ago, after the Jets shellacked Indianapolis in a wild-card game 41-0, former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt took Manning to task.
"All week before the Jets game I'm like, '(No.) 18, we're going to handle it, me and you we're going to win this game.' And he's like, 'Yeah, yeah, OK,'" Vanderjagt said. "And I'm like, 'Peyton, show some enthusiasm, you're the quarterback and we need to win this game.' I just don't see it from him."
Oh, that's rich: quoting the guy who not only had more to do with the Colts' loss to Pittsburgh last season, but also who is almost single-handedly responsible for a previous playoff loss - part of which Freeman attributs to Manning as "his" 3-6 playoff record. And why would Vandy take Manning to task for a game in which the Colts' Defense gave up 41 points?!?
Manning blasted Vanderjagt as the "idiot kicker" that was liquored up, and the mainstream media, many members of which have been apologists for Manning, beat Vanderjagt over the head with a baseball bat. The beefy ex-jocks on TV said kickers aren't real football players and dismissed his words.
But wasn't Vanderjagt right?
Perhaps we need to "see it" from Vanderjagt, before he takes anyone else to task. If you want to talk about choking in the "big game", look no further than the Idiot Kicker.
Maybe this will be the Year of Manning.
Or maybe we will see the same old Stat Boy.
We know this for certain: all Freeman ever will see is "Stat Boy". He's too blinded by "Brady's handsome looks" and his own hatred for Indianapolis, the Colts, and Manning.