Counting Crows — “Omaha”
(from August and Everything After [Deluxe Edition]) —
As I type this, Peyton Manning is roughly half an hour away from leading his football team — the Denver Broncos — onto an NFL playing field for what could well be the final time in his titanic eighteen-season career. I, who have followed Manning since his second season in the league (back when he was under center for the Indianapolis Colts), have spent much of this weekend trying to psych myself into making peace with the fact that this day could well be the end of the line for a man whose talent, work ethic, and punishing pursuit of perfection I have spent most of half of my existence on this planet admiring beyond expression, and I more or less have indeed come to terms with that very notion. (True story: the day after Manning lost his first playoff game — a January 2000 squeaker against the Tennessee Titans, who would go on to lose the Super Bowl that year by one excruciating yard — I felt as though I had been gut-punched. I was all of three months into my newfound status as a football fan, and literally called my father in tears, wondering how he had done this all these years; how had he survived the years when his beloved Dallas Cowboys broke his heart and didn’t make it all the way to the Super Bowl? As I recall, he chuckled gently and said I’d better get used to this feeling if I was going to cut it as a true fan.)
Regardless of what this afternoon holds as Peyton prepares to face his longtime rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots one more (one last?) time, and regardless of what you might hear in the coming days and weeks as discussion turns to what exactly Peyton Manning may or may not have accomplished across the breadth of his glorious career as a professional quarterback, let’s all just agree to agree that, in an eighteen season career, there is nothing to be ashamed of about playoff appearances in fifteen of those seasons, conference championship appearances in five of those seasons (including this one), Super Bowl appearances in three of those seasons, and a thrilling Super Bowl victory in one of those seasons. (To, of course, say nothing of the fact that Manning owns essentially every significant record that a quarterback can conceivably own, from number of completed yards passed to number of touchdowns thrown to take your fucking pick.) Win or lose today, Peyton can exit that field at the end of it with his head held triumphantly high. (How fitting, then, that today’s game will be taking place one full mile above sea level.) Give those shifty Patriots hell out there today, Peyton, and soak in every last second of this experience, sir.