Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos are undefeated. It’s no fun.
Growing up, my favorite NFL team was the Miami Dolphins. I had gotten into the sport during Dan Marino’s twilight, and really missed any chance of really enjoying his Hall-of-Fame career. Honestly, my strongest memory of him as a player is his last game, a playoff drubbing at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Instead, I grew up with defensive stalwarts Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, with a rotating cast of offensive players like Jay Fiedler and Lamar Smith. They were predictably mediocre for a while, yet I always found my best sports-related rage for Peyton Manning, who helmed a division rival.
Most football fans see Manning as the uber-talented Hall-of-Fame pivot behind the Indianapolis Colts for most of the 2000s. I have a bit of a different experience.
My parents divorced at an early age, and my mom got remarried when I was five to my now-stepfather of twenty years. He is from Knoxville, Tennessee, home to the state’s flagship university. As a kid, my mom did her best to try to incorporate me in to my stepdad’s family. It didn’t go over well, I always felt desolate and bored on those trips. One year, for Christmas, they got me a #16 jersey for the University of Tennessee–an implied Peyton Manning, thanks to NCAA rules. I wanted nothing more that Christmas to be home and would have preferred some Game Boy games or some Power Rangers or some books or something. I now had an semi-rational basis to despise all things UT football and Peyton Manning.
Years have passed, Manning has won multiple MVP awards, a Super Bowl, and left the Colts. Many expected him to be with the Colts forever, until a neck injury kept him out for the entire 2011 season. With top pick Andrew Luck and uncertainty with Manning’s future, the Colts released Peyton. He became the most sought after free-agent in sports since LeBron James. The QB would end up signing with the Denver Broncos, a team that had just gone through the unwarranted media circus brought along with Tim Tebow.
Denver would have a strong 2012, going 13-3 before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. What did they do in the offseason? They got better. John Elway and company brought in excellent pass-catcher Wes Welker to help Peyton Manning. Even though they lost Pro Bowl LB Von Miller, the Broncos are rolling. They’re on pace to set a bunch of scoring records, destroy every team in the league, and win the Super Bowl. I hate it.
Sports, and stories in general, need villains. I like knowing that the Yankees are an evil franchise, or that Duke is worthy of scorn in college hoops because they win everything, or that the Boston Bruins deserve to lose every game because their fans are terrible. Denver, though, is just boring me.
Peyton Manning has done this his whole career in the NFL. He is precise, he picks his spots, he mercilessly marches down the field and scores a touchdown. Now he’s back at it, in Denver. He looks unbeatable in a boring, old-school, pro-style offense. I understand he has to do this because he has that neck injury and he has the mobility of a statue. It’s just so damn infuriating.
No one has succeeded in breaking them down yet. I want someone to find that off switch, to make the league wide open again. The answer may be in the Broncos’ own division. The Kansas City Chiefs are also undefeated this season, rebounding from a year in which they won 2 games and got the #1 pick (OT Eric Fisher). Andy Reid came in from the Philadelphia Eagles and has revitalized this team, along with offseason pick-up QB Alex Smith. Kansas City and Denver have yet to meet, and I imagine their first game will be quite the event.
Here’s hoping Justin Houston and the KC defense finds the off switch.