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Keidel: Peyton Personifies How We Label Athletes Too Quickly

Peyton Manning (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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By Jason Keidel
» More Columns

Millions of us got lost in the lofty appeal of a Peyton Manning coronation, an ethereal sequence where he gets the game ball, MVP, staff and throne.

Instead, he looked lost, rigid and frigid under the dual pressures of the Seahawks and the Super Bowl. His legacy became more toxic than the water fountains in Sochi.

We split Manning’s performance into a pie chart — 30 percent choke, 30 percent offensive line, 40 percent percent Seattle beatdown. Add the recent revelation from Richard Sherman that Manning tipped his plays to the Seahawks and you’ve got a flop that would make David Stern blush.

Sure, it’s tough to feel sorry for someone who has signed multiple $100 million contracts to play quarterback in the NFL, something many of us would have tried for free if we had the talent.

But this isn’t really about Manning. It’s about our need to brand someone a winner or loser instantly and eternally. After just a few seasons we find reasons to jam the eject button on an athlete. Manning went from G.O.A.T. to goat in just 60 minutes. And from winner to loser.

LeBron James was a loser. Until he wasn’t. So was Michael Jordan. Until he became the greatest player in history. John Elway was clobbered 39-20, 42-10 and 55-10 in his first three Super Bowls. Now Elway is the face of everything good except American currency. Ted Williams whiffed in his lone World Series. Is he still not the best hitter not named Babe Ruth?

If I could pick any player over the last 30 years with whom to start an NFL team, I would tag Dan Marino, and he — gasp! — has no Super Bowl rings.

I know — what about the way I kill Carmelo Anthony? Mr. Anthony has had over a decade to just play for a championship and has only reached a conference finals once. The aforementioned icons at least made the finals within their respective sports well within that time frame.

Either way, I am as guilty as the next in the need to brand a man before his work is complete. I was only 15 at the time, but I did say Jordan was too obsessed with scoring to win in the NBA.

Clearly, Manning has earned some speculation over his big-game mores. He’s lost more playoff games than anyone in NFL history. But to hear such blatant labels like “loser” and “old” and “soft” after tossing 55 touchdowns and reaching the Super Bowl just feels exorbitant.

He’s not Joe Montana. And no number of return trips to the Super Bowl will change that. Heck, my blood type is black and gold, and I’m the first to concede that Terry Bradshaw isn’t in Montana’s class. But does that make Manning a loser?

I bet you’re kissing those Eli Manning posters you were ready to tear down. On January 2 I wrote a column about the way Sid Rosenberg was dissecting Eli’s career. It wasn’t as much excessive as it was myopic. Callers were too quick with the preamble, “Sure, he won two Super Bowls, but…”

But nothing. Two Super Bowl MVP awards get you more than a free dinner at Sardi’s. It’s not trendy to assert now, but Eli Manning will make the Hall of Fame. So will his brother. Doesn’t sound like a losing proposition.

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