Peyton Manning is at what we might call the “pantheon” level of sports iconography. This makes almost everything he does okay and puts his reputation above the level of reproach. The fact he has only won one Super Bowl, that he is a shill for just about any product offered to him (including a pretty average pizza brand), that he so often lost to his closest rival Brady and that his skills set has been on the decline for two years seems to be ignored in exploring his overall position in the history of the sport. Sure, there has been criticism of his performance on the field this season, but never of the man himself. Don’t get be wrong, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest regular season quarterbacks in the history of the league and did solidify his legacy when he won his sole Super Bowl in 2007. He has ripped apart the record books and has a career rating of 96.5 (fourth on the all-time list), along with a 65.3% completion percentage, 539 TDs versus 251 INTs and 71,940 yards. In the nine years QBR statistics have been kept, Manning had a 78.91 average, forgoing the terrible 45 he garnered in this injury-plagued year. His overall regular season record is 186-79 and 45-12 since he moved to Denver, including a Super Bowl appearance in a record setting season two years ago. His playoff record of 11-13 is where many find the biggest hole in his CV and why talk of him as the “greatest ever” seems suspect at best.
The point is Manning has had an incredible career that could, if things go his way, end with another trip to the Super Bowl to end this troubled season. Yet that is not the biggest story about Manning. A story from Al Jazeera over the holidays claimed that he might have taken HGH to help him on the road to recovery after the neck injuries that almost derailed his career. He came back from that injury, of course, moved on from the Colts to the Broncos and went on to have one of the best, if not the best), single seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. That that year didn’t end in a Super Bowl triumph but a blowout loss to the Seahawks took some of the luster from his comeback, but might also have allayed some questions about how exactly he did make it back with such aplomb. In any case, the story from Al Jazeera was quickly dismissed by everyone from Fox News to Manning to the league itself. And then, in one of the more bizarre events in recent years, the story died completely. There was no mention of it when Manning reentered the game and led the Broncos to victory last Sunday and little mention of it on sports radio or television since.
So what gives? Is the well-respected, corporate-sponsored Manning simply being given a pass? Why, for example, has no one besides The Nation even mentioned that he hired a guy named Ari Fleischer, yeah THAT Ari Fleischer, to serve as his PR representative on the matter? Why has no one followed up on the fact that Manning did admit a “private” package did arrive for his wife from the suspect Guyer Institute? The first thing so many athletes we later found out did cheat do is deny the allegations with indignant reproach. That is exactly what Manning did, the first time anyone has seen this guy angry since Brady ripped apart his Broncos last season – and that ire was largely covered by his helmet. Manning might very well be innocent of these charges but, given the level of cheating across all professional sports from bicycling and track to football and baseball, shouldn’t this story have at least a little more life to it? Fox News and others disparaged the story because of its source, claiming Al Jazeera is a hack, leftist outlet that is doing Al Gore’s bidding. While there is a connection between the two, and Al Jazeera has been criticized for some of its biases, it also was arguably the company that gave us the best coverage of the Iraq war, of the Arab Spring and what is really going on in the Middle East.
Should more questions be asked of the story and of Manning? Is it beyond the scope of reason that an aging quarterback looking for one more Super Bowl ring might dip into the alluring world of Human Growth Hormones along the road to recovery? Why would the originator of the story have lied when he did not know he was being taped only to change his story when he discovered he was? Again, I’m not saying he ever took HGH, I just do think a double standard appears to be emerging. And I have to wonder if race, corporate and NFL interests and his reputation have anything to do with it …