- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s OK, Peyton. You can put the black high-tops on now. They fit.

How great would it be if, five years from now, as he stood on the stage at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Peyton Manning wore the black high-top shoes that the NFL refused to let him wear to honor Johnny Unitas in 2002, when the great Unitas passed away?

“I’m biased because I’m a quarterback, but he was one of the most influential guys at the quarterback position,” Manning told reporters at the time.

And now, as he is expected to say his goodbyes to quarterback Monday in a press conference held by the Denver Broncos, there is a generation of young quarterbacks who believe, rightly so, that Manning is one of the most influential guys at the quarterback position.

The black high-top shoes fit.

Manning is in the same room with Unitas, Joe Montana, John Elway, Tom Brady and any others who find their way into the debate as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He is the all-time leader with 539 touchdown passes, 71,940 passing yards and 200 combined regular-season and playoff wins, so whatever measure you want — individual performances or team leadership — Manning measures among the best ever.

There are quarterbacks, such as Montana and Brady, with more playoff success. But, if you wrap up the whole package, Manning is Mount Rushmore material — and he punctuated it with his final Super Bowl championship, and his second overall, last month with Denver.

It wasn’t pretty — 13 out of 23 completions for 141 yards, one interception, five sacks and a fumble — but his Denver teammates, the ones that Manning individually reached out to and contacted Saturday night to tell them that he was calling it quits, believed that their best chance to upset the favored Carolina Panthers was with the broken down 39-year-old veteran at the helm.

So did Elway, who is also in those conversations and who, like Manning, has known playoff failure as well as success.

“When you look at everything Peyton has accomplished as a player and person, it’s easy to see how fortunate we’ve been to have him on our team,” Elway said in a statement issued on Sunday. “Peyton was everything that we thought he was and even more—not only for the football team but in the community. There’s no question that his work ethic is what made him into one of the great quarterbacks of all time. All the film study Peyton did and the process that he went through with game planning and understanding what the other teams did was second-to-none.

Peyton was a player that guys wanted to play with. That made us better as a team, and I’m thrilled that we were able to win a championship in his final year. Peyton won a lot of awards and set a lot of records, but to me, what he helped our team accomplish during the last four years is what stands out the most.”

The black high-top shoes fit.

It is easy to understand why Manning felt such a connection to Unitas. Playing for the Colts, he saw the trophies and memorabilia that the franchise had won with Unitas in Baltimore. It may have been a crime for the NFL to let the Colts leave with the Unitas franchise legacy, but Manning was 8 years old when the Colts left Baltimore. He went to work every day in Indianapolis, starting in 1998 when he was drafted, and was reminded of Unitas‘ greatness.

Manning wrote the forward for the 2013 book, “Johnny Unitas: America’s quarterback.” He wrote about how much valued the moments he had with Unitas. “He always took the time to be nice to me,” Manning wrote. “He always told me, ‘Peyton, I like the way you play the game.’

“You know, kind of being a field general trying to manage everything that was going on out there on the field,” Manning wrote. “That’s something that quarterbacks should strive for and it’s something I strive for. It’s the quarterbacks responsibility to make order out of chaos and nobody did did it better than Johnny Unitas.”

Manning, who won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award at Tennessee, wrote about one of his favorite pictures — a photo of him giving Unitas a pair of black high-tops Manning wore at Tennessee.

“He thought that was pretty cool,” Manning wrote. “It was a neat, neat moment.”

Those black high-top shoes? They fit for Johnny Unitas, and they fit for Peyton Manning.

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide