Peyton Manning finally is doing what logic, age, contractual status and his body have been screaming at him to do. Now all that’s left is to declare his legacy.
Which, of course, won’t rightly be told until his ancillary role in the Tennessee athletic department mess is fully contextualized.
Weirdly, that is part of Manning’s essential largeness -– that events of 20 years ago can still gain life through the introduction of his name. His contemptible behavior during and after the original incident in 1996 are part of the Greater Manning, and all the hagiographic reviews of his career won’t change that.
And when he becomes a part-owner of the Denver Broncos in the near future, that will be part of it as well.
At least I presume that is his just reward for his service to John Elway, who himself gets to run the Broncos because of his service to Pat Bowlen. They will be the New Dynasty -– a family forged by job description, talent, convenience and circumstance.
Manning won the Broncos a Super Bowl, which is to say he contributed to the overall effort in the Denver defense’s winning the Broncos a Super Bowl. But it is wrong to forget how much he did for Elway merely by helping rid the club president of “this troublesome priest,” Tim Tebow (with apologies to King Henry II). Tebow’s acquisition put Elway in a difficult corner from which only Manning could extricate him.
That is why he deserves a piece of the action, and why Elway would have been a fool not to whisper such an eventuality in his ear (without actually whispering it, if you know what we mean, and we think you do).
It is certainly something that the 49ers would never have offered when they made their brief and laughably doomed flirtation with Manning, and then denied it when it became obvious that is exactly what they were doing. Manning never would have played in San Francisco, not for the York family, not for Jim Harbaugh. It was never close -– a tire-kick, at best.
No, Manning has never not understood his value, not at any point. Not in high school, not at Tennessee, not in Indianapolis or Denver or any other city that dreamed its dreamy dreams of having him entertain its citizens. San Francisco offered football. Denver offered so much more.
And he was there when the payment was made. Past his sell-by date, to be sure, the most managerist of game managers, doing with muscle memory and just plain memory what his body would no longer permit.
Now, in retirement, he can begin to collect on all the chits he has amassed as a public figure. This is where the Elway template is most useful -– Elway was given an entire franchise to run by a grateful owner (Bowlen) whose physical and mental infirmities prevented him from doing so himself, and Elway paid it back and forward at the same time.
This would be one of Manning’s dream jobs as well, and even if there is no room atop the organizational pyramid for him in Denver, he is surely imagining such an end after he scratches whatever television itch he might have (and if you think the NFL-bearing networks haven’t already sharpened their scimitars for the blood war over that studio job, you know nothing of television or the maniacs who work in it).
That, too, will be part of the ever-shifting legacy of Peyton Manning -– which jewel-studded road or roads he chooses for his golden years. It won’t be a legacy clear of bumps and bruises -– Tennessee must never stray far from any biographer’s lips –- but Manning’s choices from here on out all seem to be attractive and well-cushioned.