Manning’s Tebow Year

This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. View the full digital edition.

Peyton Manning is having his worst and best year of his life. This is his Tim Tebow Year.

A couple of days after his dismal performance against the Ravens in the Broncos home opener, Manning mentioned me by name as he went through his theoretical media injury report.

“D-Mac … the laryngitis from ripping me all week … the rash that he has that’s unidentified,” Manning opined. “The fact that he’s still here every day to overcome that, I think it’s admirable.”

For the first time in four years, Manning mentioned me by name. I’ve been like a pesky fly on the wall at practices and games for years and years. I’ve had a chance to interview Manning one-on-one (specifically about a Mile High Sports Magazine feature on Mike Harrington). I’ve asked him serious questions and goofy questions. He has been on my radio show one time, just days after he signed his deal when he was doing the rounds and was on every show.

Why mention me now? There were dozens of other local yokel media folks in attendance.

Well, first of all – it was funny. Second, I probably have pissed him off over the past few years with the things I have said on the radio. But, most importantly, Manning was acknowledging that he is aware of the things that surround him. He was making it clear that he isn’t a robot. It was a humorous, light moment aimed at somebody who has been as critical of him as anybody has ever been.

I’m not expecting to be invited over to dinner anytime soon, but it’s nice to see that we can at least joke around about the reality of the current situation.

This is it for Manning.

It doesn’t matter that he has one year left on his contract. What has happened early in the season is proof enough that he will be hanging on by a thread to get through this year. This is a time when the critics who say he is washed up are correct. This is a year when his supporters who say he’s a winner, and, “Just let him be Peyton,” are also correct.

This is his Tebow Year.

In the Broncos locker room at Sports Authority Field, Tebow approached me to talk with me off to the side. It was in 2011 after the miracle Bears game where an ethereal being pulled Marion Barber out of bounds and Matt Prater was kicking field goals from the moon. I had asked Tebow in his big press conference if he felt there was something else going on. Tebow gave a relatively generic answer about the team just not giving up, but that wasn’t what he said to me a few minutes later.

When Tebow saw me in the locker room afterwards, he pulled me aside to say that he had been thinking more about my question, and yes, he did believe there was something bigger going on. He didn’t go quite as far to say that God had personally decided the outcome of the game, but he implied that destiny and faith might be connected. It’s not important that anybody truly believed that notion, except to know that Tebow believed it.

Tebow wasn’t a good quarterback, but he was a winner and a fierce competitor. He willed himself and his teammates to go beyond what was rational in terms of their performance. He took his team and commandeered one of the greatest playoff wins in Broncos history against the Steelers. The next week, they got stomped by the Patriots. In the end, you tend to lose to the team that’s just plain better than you.

John Harbaugh told me that his Ravens team of 2012 was special for the ages as they rode the coattails of another player who was facing his own sunset. Ray Lewis lost a ton of physical ability in his final year, but his leadership was as strong as ever. They believed in all the horse crap Lewis was shoveling and it worked. Lewis didn’t have anything left in the tank, but he got to hold the Lombardi Trophy high in the air.

If we are lucky, we will all have a Tebow Year. We will all have moments where we challenge ourselves despite the fact we probably aren’t really ready for what is to come. If we don’t take advantage of those moments and embrace them, despite the very possible negative outcomes, we will have never truly lived. For those that are too timid to embark on a Tebow Year, there will be a lifetime of regret when your head hits the pillow at night.

Manning has been grinding, grinding, grinding. Nothing could have been worse than his start in Kansas City in Week 2, where he threw a pick-six and trailed the Chiefs 14-0. Phil Simms was eulogizing Manning just before No. 18 led the Broncos to a Tebowesque victory. Karlos Dansby would say after Tebow led the Broncos to a win over the Dolphins in 2011 by scoring 15 points in the final three minutes of the game that a heavenly body had to be responsible for that outcome. He was being serious. Miracles can happen if you don’t give up, but life isn’t a Disney movie. At some point, reality catches up with you. And don’t let the fact that perpetual cheaters like the Patriots win deter you. Go for the ride and enjoy it.

Your Tebow Year can be the most thrilling time of your life. Your Tebow Year is when you actually run a marathon. You climb that mountain. You write that book. You take an overseas trip. You see sunsets in lands you only thought happened in movies. You look up into a cloudless sky in the dead of night and, for the first time, see stars so plentiful they look like grains of sand. You finally take a deep breath and enjoy the process rather than grind to the finish. Along the way, amazing things will happen if you allow yourself to be in the moment.

Look at the quarterback rating of both Tebow and Manning for the last dozen or so games they started and you will see more similarities than differences. Manning is an incredible quarterback, yet, at times of late, he’s been awful. But, the numbers simply don’t matter. When Manning was creating a solitary atmosphere around himself, he was isolated and the team was dysfunctional. As Manning eases back and becomes more accepting of his inevitable finish, he becomes more likable and, most likely, more successful.

Could John Elway have returned for a run at a third straight world championship? Absolutely yes. However, he embraced his Tebow Year with his heart and soul. Elway missed four-and-a-half games that final season with a painful bicep injury. The Broncos not only leaned on the incredible Terrell Davis, but the boisterous Bubby Brister. It was a team filled with characters and a dominating defense. Elway didn’t have to do it all. He had to humble himself and play a role. Manning appears to be on that same path. Elway choked up and his emotions poured out when he retired in April after winning his second straight Super Bowl with an MVP title to boot. He knew he could still sort of play, but it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s hard to go out on top, most go out in a whimpering fashion. But, what great joy Elway gave all his fans; it’s a joy that still radiates to this day.

Peyton Manning will write his own unique story. Being compared to Tebow won’t exactly make Manning more likely to search me out. I can feel my rash growing. But let’s wait and see how he writes what should be his final glorious chapter.

In the meantime, let’s not let life pass us by. Sitting on the sidelines is boring. I know there is something you’ve always wanted to do. Don’t worry about failure, because we all know it is more likely than success. You are never too young or old to do something bold. Whether or not you succeed shouldn’t matter, it’s more relevant if you actually stood directly in the face of a hurricane and beat your chest in defiance.

In the end, we should all embrace an endless parade of Tebow Years.

SHARE