The Athletic Reporter
September 12, 2005 Sports News the Way You Want It. Completely Made Up. Issue 127
 
The Average Mulder
by Joe Mulder
He's Peyton Manning and You're Not

"[Indianapolis Colts quarterback] Peyton Manning is really bad at winning over fans. Football people love him but the average Joe thinks he's the kind of guy who used to ask the teacher if there was any homework that night. Too squeaky-clean and force-fed to us.''

So e-mailed Josh from St. Louis a little over a month ago. It appeared in one of Sports Illustrated writer Peter King's weekly online Monday Morning Quarterback columns (which is, along with Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on nfl.com, essential weekly reading), and King gave this goofy sentiment about as much credence as I do.

But clearly there does exist some segment of the sports fan population that regards Manning as a goody-two-shoes, a kiss-ass; King wouldn't have run the e-mail if there didn't. And why, pray tell, would someone think this way about the man who just broke one of sports' major records, eclipsing Dan Marino's mark for most touchdowns thrown in a season?

Jealousy.

I'm not saying that Peyton Manning should be your favorite player (feel free to pick someone on your own team, or someone who's won a Super Bowl). I'm just saying that the fact that he's white, clean-cut, well-spoken, and comes from a family with a famous dad shouldn't be held against him. Why be mad at him because he's got everything? You resenting Peyton Manning isn't going to change the fact that your only two career touchdown passes came in the seventh grade, or that you have to do a couple of shots before you can bear to open up your credit card statement every month.

It's not just sports, either; an ugly suspicion of anyone or anything thought to be "good" pervades part of our culture, and has for a while (as with most things, I blame hippies). Led by popular examples from Holden Caulfield to John Lennon to John McEnroe, certain people have always equated being good with being "phony," as if politeness and respect were traits that no human being would possibly exhibit unless he was just dancin' for The Man.

Manning shouldn't be immune to criticism, of course; the fact that he's failed to live up to his promise in the playoffs is something that is often pointed out, and that's true to some degree (though, to be fair, he doesn't play defense). But John Elway, arguably the greatest quarterback ever, had to wait quite a while to get his Super Bowls. Just because Manning's reputation right now is that he's a spectacular regular-season quarterback who can't get it done in the playoffs doesn't mean that it can't change. Remember when Brad Johnson was just an injury-prone disappointment? Well... he won a Super Bowl. Remember when Trent Dilfer was thought of as barely adequate, even for those lousy mid 90s-era Buccaneers teams? Well... he's still thought of as barely adequate; bad example.

The point is, Peyton Manning might actually be pleasant, polite and respectful, and a great football player. It might not just be an act. He might really be nice. Stranger things have happened.

Besides, we all saw how cool he can be when he has the occasion to. Remember when, a couple years ago, Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt gave an interview to some Canadian talk show questioning Manning's (and Colts coach Tony Dungy's) intensity following a playoff loss to the Jets? Manning, at the Pro Bowl, called Vanderjagt and "idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off," which still ranks as one of the top sports sound bites of our young century.

I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing more Nice Young Men playing sports at an elite level, and I think Peyton Manning -- for his achievements as well as for the way he conducts himself off the field -- should be celebrated, not resented.
Joe Mulder
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