This year the NFL is rife with story lines, from the referee lockout to the fallout from bounty gate to how I no longer have the same hate for Tom Brady (post pending), but there is one story that I will be following with the most fervor. The story is about the vindication and the indomitable spirit of two men I hold in the highest regard, Peyton Manning and Alex Smith.
As you can most likely tell I love Football with a passion. I will watch any sport on TV and I get emotionally involved in most of them, but football holds the top spot in my heart. Nothing quite matches the thrill of watching your team make a miraculous 4th quarter comeback or the joy you feel seeing a trophy being hoisted in the air, and thanks to these men I have seen and felt these things a lot over the years (One a bit more than the other). Sadly these two noble warriors have had their named defamed by “experts” and “douchefaces”.
|Or both in one|
In college Alex Smith was an exemplary quarterback. During his final year he had some mind blowing stats. He threw 32 touchdowns and ran for 10 more all while only turning the ball over four times. The man was a machine, but one with a heart. This was proven when after the defeat of BYU and subsequent crowd rushing I was hugged by this man and he said two words to me “hey Zac”. It was a magical moment for all involved (mainly me) and I knew that one day he would take his talent to the league and he would find success. Unfortunately it was going to be a rough start.
|Just stay down there for the next five years or so.|
For years Alex was forced to stand behind subpar offensive lines and to try and learn a different offense each time they hired a new coordinator (hint: it was at least once a year). So after years of mediocre results many had given up on him, or worse decided that he was a joke from the start. Hearing those things crushed me because I knew differently. I had seen him play time and again from my spot in the muss on the second row and I had joined in the crowd chanting “70” because we felt that scoring 63 just wasn’t enough. Those chants were given to the winner that I knew Alex Smith to be. Even through the rough times I never wavered in my support, and my patience was about to be rewarded.
|Like this kind of reward, but for my heart and brain.|
Finally the long night was ending and the dawn of a new age in San Francisco was about to begin. The first ray of light came when Mike “rock for brains” Singletary was fired. He was a terrible coach and should be ashamed of the poor job he did and how poorly he treated his players. This was just another example that being a great player doesn't mean you will be a great coach. The next sunny beam came when Jim Harbaugh was announced as the head coach. He is probably just as intense as Singletary, but he knows where to place his steely gaze and seething rage and that is squarely on the opponents or on the refs. His addition to the team gave Alex confidence in himself and helped the team forge an identity. That year they went 13-3 and Alex currently has the longest streak of passes without an interception in the league.
|Best watch out if he foams in your direction.|
If you thought that first story was a little sad you should probably hold onto that box of tissues because this next tale will cause your face to leak like the Exxon Valdez (I felt it was too soon to talk about the BP oil spill, also you can ignore the tragedy better when you can picture Juan Valdez instead). Peyton Manning has been my sports hero for nearly a decade and a half. Growing up I was a 49ers fan because I lived in Utah and Steve Young was in his prime. We weren't really given a choice that was just how it was. As I grew older I was finally making my own choices about what teams I liked and why. Right around the same time as my budding sport individualism was peaking; Peyton Manning was finishing up his career at Tennessee. I guess the planets had aligned because I had found myself a man to look up to in sports. I knew that wherever he went I was going to be a fan of that team, and so I became a fan of the Indianapolis Colts. I am really grateful that he managed to avoid Dallas or Pittsburgh because can you imagine how awful a person that would have made me?
|Thank you universe for saving me from that.|
In May 2011, Peyton Manning underwent a neck surgery to alleviate some neck pain and help with some arm weakness. It wasn't a big surgery by any means, but it opened the door to a world of hurt for me and the Colts (and I guess Peyton himself). In September Peyton underwent another surgery to perform a level one spinal fusion (and two more surgeries to round it out). I was stunned because Peyton had never missed a start in his career, but now we were being faced with the unthinkable, a year without Manning. I will admit it was a rough season to watch. 2-14 is never easy and Curtis Painter was never meant to start an NFL game.
|He looks like a kicker at best.|
The only thing that kept me going was knowing that at least Peyton was going to be back for the next season, but then is March of 2012 I was hit with another shocker. The Colts had released Manning to pursue a young replacement in the new draft. The worst is what came next. From that point on most the experts started to say that he was a has-been and that he should hang up his cleats. They didn't bother to accurately research his surgeries or listen to what his doctors were saying.
|Yes I am still talking about them.|
There have been some difficult moments for both of these men, moments of darkness in which they probably questioned themselves and wavered in their commitment. Although they were cast off and downtrodden by the heartless media, one man had faith in these fallen giants and this man will be watching this year to see them regain their rightful place as legends.