On Manning, Pride, and Legacies

Legacies are difficult to gauge and should, as someone recently pointed out to me, be largely about past performance. Players who step off the field leaving behind records, championships and a reputation for doing things the right way joule for all intents and purposes be revered by fans long after their departure.

That is, of course, unless the departure gets botched.

Some have said they should have no beef with Peyton Manning if he played for the Tennessee Titans. He was, after all, cut after months of grueling speculation by the Colts. To most who watched the painful spectacle unfold it was clearly not his decision to leave the team he had practically built. Tearfully he admitted as much during his farewell press conference. To fans in this camp the deed belonged only to owner Jim Irsay who had so adamantly claimed if Peyton wished to remain a Colt he would. Clearly a lie even if not intended to be, this claim clearly indicates Irsay made this decision for Manning thereby absolving Colts fans from having a legitimate complaint about the quarterback’s choice of teams.

Still there are some, many based on feedback I have received to date, that are incredibly relieved that Manning chose the Broncos. The very idea that their once beloved icon would play for a division rival was too much too stomach. Much like the team putting Unitas out to pasture in San Diego, this move will mean that somber Colts fans will not have to watch Manning play their team twice each year. It shares much in common with a former flame moving away and finding a new love. He can go lead the innocuous Broncos so several championships and Colts fans won’t begrudge him as they would have were he a Titan.

Still I wonder why the outcome so much more palatable to Colts fans?

There is one very powerful human trait at work here: pride. Fans are by nature irrational. They need to be in fact. Sports are a bit of escapism from the trials of this world–a child’s game played by men for our own joy. Fans latch onto teams and players with a great sense of pride, claiming them as their own and in many ways incorporating them into their own identity. Rational people don’t paint their chests and cook out all day in the parking lot of their favorite hardware store. It would be high-comedy if your butcher inspired so much pride that you insisted on cheering him each week (Cut that meat)! Fans behave rationally out of an abiding sense of pride.

To those fans Tennessee was one of several unacceptable locations–like your ex dating your best friend or sibling. Denver is acceptable because they aren’t rivals and give Manning a legitimate shot at a title. Colts fans hated the idea that Manning would pick a team who couldn’t get him a ring. It would mean he was driven by the most un-Manning traits: greed or worse yet, a Favre-ish desire for revenge. Heck, he might as well grow a goatee and just go totally evil. No, Denver is just fine for those (irrational) reasons.

Champions are driven by an immense amount of pride. Peyton Manning, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game was just dumped by a team he essentially saved. He knows he can still play. His pride was wounded yet Colts fans expected and hoped he wouldn’t step upon his squeaky clean legacy in Indianapolis. With no reasonable claim over any part of Manning’s future, fans held out for good news that Peyton would not play in the AFC South.

And once again Peyton Manning did what everyone hoped he would do–he saved the day in Indianapolis.