Between 1999 and 2010, the Indianapolis Colts failed to reach playoff contention just once. They were a staggering example of organizational consistency, and they posed as a how-to guide for general managers in the midst of rebuilding. Step One: Draft Peyton Manning. Step Two: Prosper.
Over those years, the rivalry between the Colts and the Patriots was one of the more exciting matchups in the league. Because of the NFL’s scheduling rules, first place teams within the conference play each other annually. Every single year, the two teams would meet in the regular season, serving as an appetizer to the inevitable main course, a January clash that would all but decide the class of the AFC.
There was the “Ty Law” game in Foxboro. En route to a Super Bowl ring, the Patriots’ defense brutalized Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and the other Colts’ receivers. There was so much physicality, that the NFL (after strong influence from Tony Dungy) revised the pass interference rules. Every receiver that asks for and receives a flag in today’s NFL should thank Ty Law. Manning was intercepted four times, including three by Law.
The worst non-Super Bowl loss I can remember was the 2006 AFC Championship Game. The Colts had earned home field advantage, so they hosted the Patriots. The visitors jumped out to an 18-point lead, but Manning led one of the most amazing comebacks in NFL Playoff history. The Colts intercepted Brady on the final drive, sealing both teams’ fate. The Colts would beat the Bears to win their first title since moving to Indianapolis.
I could list a dozen other games that came down to the final drive. Just thinking about those contests gives me mixed emotions. Because of my abhorrence towards Manning, those victories were almost as great as the Super Bowl wins. On the other hand, losing to Indy’s Super Villain was the hardest thing to watch in sports.
The Colts’ QB sat out the 2011 season, after undergoing multiple neck surgeries. While Tom Brady served as a Patriots fan’s Chosen One, Peyton Manning was St. Peter, guarding the gate to heaven. If my team was going to win the Super Bowl, they would have to go through Indianapolis to get there. However, without Manning, the Colts embraced “Suck for Luck”, and they finished 2-14. With a healthy Tom Brady, nothing was stopping New England from AFC domination.
How boring was that?
I despise Peyton Manning, but I love watching him play. He’s a surgeon in the pocket, and the most precise passer of all time. When Wes Mantooth holds Ron Burgundy’s life in his hands, towering over the bear pit, he utters that famous line: “At the bottom of my gut, with every inch of me, I plain, straight hate you. But damnit, do I respect you!” That is how I feel towards Manning.
I think it was Cam Newton that once proclaimed, that every action had an equal and opposite reaction. My love for Tom Brady’s Pats matched my unabashed hatred for Manning’s Colts. Sports are better when we have a villain to root against. NBA Finals’ ratings soar because people want to see LeBron James fail on the grandest stage. The only thing better than watching an athlete attain the highest level of success, is watching their shortcomings and colossal failures.
I needed Peyton Manning to evolve as a sports fan, and I am going to be devastated when he finally retires. It is not just him, though. I have a special place in my Mt. Rushmore of Vitriol for Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant and Peyton’s younger brother (notice how I will not say his name? That guy is Voldemort).
On my twenty-second birthday, I look around the leagues, and cannot help but feel grown. I was raised on ESPN and Boog’s BBQ, and these sports icons are still an enormous part of my life. It will be sad when Derek Jeter is no longer making that jump throw to first base. It will be sad when Kobe Bryant is no longer forcing up turn-around jumpers, in double coverage. It will be sad when I can no longer see Peyton Manning stalking the sideline, with that goofy, red imprint on his forehead. The worst part is not knowing when we will see these feats for the final time. I will not miss Voldemort, and he will likely serve as a bridge to the next generation of foes.
As much as we pretend like they will fade into retirement, these players will stick with us as long as our favorites will. “Anchorman” would not have been as funny without Wes Mantooth. We would not be able to love our sports protagonists as much as we do, if it was not for the players we despise.
As another football season kicks off, I cannot help but look forward to November 24th. Brady and Manning will face off for the fourteenth time. When I was younger, I would dread the matchup because it meant a possible loss. Now, I embrace it, knowing I will soon lose the contradictory feelings that come with watching the players I grew up with.
Editor's Note: Sal is a lifelong O's and Patriots fan, and a founding member of the OBP Podcast, make sure to follow him on Twitter at @SalTeamSix and try not to hold the whole "Patriots fan" thing against him