Monday, December 2, 2013

Peyton Manning is Not Superhuman, and I'm Okay With That

All my sports heros from my childhood are gone. Chipper Jones and John Smoltz have retired, Reggie White has passed away, and Brett Favre’s mind is starting to betray him. My last connection to watching sports as a kid is Peyton Manning, but every game gets a little more bittersweet to watch.

Manning, by every conceivable measure, is having the season of his life. But have you watched him play? Have you seen his face during a game? He looks tired and worn down, like a farmer after decades of fighting nature. His eyes are sunken and faded. The man looks old.

Like every other East Tennessee kid around my age, I have lived believing Peyton was mythic. Super-human. Now, even in his success, he seems exposed. Watching him play these last two weeks in New England and Kansas City was like reading “The Death of Superman” or the final scenes of Beowulf. It’s difficult for me to grasp there will be a time he won’t be playing football, but it looks so inevitable now.

However, maybe it’s for the best I see him this way. Not as a fading superhero, but as a man. When I accepted that my dad wasn’t the character I’d created him to be, I grew to appreciate who he was. So much of my devotion to Peyton was built around what he did for me as a fan, but maybe it’s better to see him as a no more of a man than I am. Sport is at its best when we as fans are compelled to be great because we see greatness in athletes. The best thing I’ll ever gain from watching Peyton is to be as amazing in my life as he was on the field.

Still, something in me will change when he’s gone. That connection to my 12 year old, football obsessed self will seem a little more distant, and I’ll be a little bit older. But until then, I’ll watch every snap I can. I’ll get sappy and nostalgic and tell my wife stories about where I was when he did something I’d never seen before, because it's a hell of a lot of fun to feel like a kid.

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