Gavin DeGraw — “Belief” (from Chariot [Deluxe Edition]) —

A chastised me for the decidedly bittersweet tone of my blog post from exactly two Sundays ago, which was more or less a farewell to legendary NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, whose Denver Broncos I strongly suspected were not going to be able to vanquish Manning’s eternal rivals — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots — in the thrilling AFC Championship Game fourteen days ago. A’s stance was that I should have had more faith in the abilities of both Manning and his compatriots, and while he’s probably right about that, he also has no real way to appreciate how many times over the past seventeen years that I’ve had my football-loving heart broken by that exact Manning/Brady matchup. (Betcha dollars to donuts that, in said title game two weeks ago, when Tom Brady got the ball back in his hands with something like two minutes left on the clock and down only one score, every last Peyton Manning fan in creation muttered something to the effect of, “Fuck me running, here we go again.”)

In the end, I should have trusted the pattern of history: Manning and Brady have met a total of five times in the postseason, and in each of those five games, the home team won. So the Broncos ended up punching their ticket to today’s Super Bowl (the kickoff for which is roughly forty-five minutes away as I type this) to face off against Cam Newton and the cagey Carolina Panthers in what seems nearly certain to be Peyton Manning’s final Sunday as an NFL quarterback. And, fitting for a man with a bulging book full of records, Manning snatches yet another slice of football history for himself today: at 39, he becomes the oldest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl game (besting his boss, former Denver quarterback John Elway, who was 38 when he won Super Bowl 33 in 1999).

I’ll take A’s advice and allow myself a moment to imagine — indeed, to believe — that the Broncos will win today’s game, giving Peyton Manning’s triumphant career the kind of utterly incredible fairytale finish that no screenwriter would even dare to script for a movie. (This much I know: [a] I’ma be a sobbing, blubbering mess by the end of this evening, win or lose; and [b] if Denver’s defense manages to toss Newton up and down and all around the field like a G.I. Joe doll the way they did Tom Brady two Sundays ago, this game is going to be a lot closer than the Vegas oddsmakers are currently projecting.) But regardless of the result of tonight’s game, Peyton’ll take that field as the Sheriff, and he’ll leave it as the Sheriff, now and forever. One finds it difficult to fathom when we’ll ever see the likes of his grit, grace, and greatness pass this way again. Unleash fire on those Panthers tonight, Number Eighteen, and thanks — thank you so damned much — for the exceeding excellence of your example.

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