- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Peyton Manning is looking mighty fine as he readies his right arm for the Patriots this weekend. Indeed, it’s easy to make the argument that this is His Year, that the two-time NFL MVP is finally going to break through and win a Super Bowl. The Colts’ offense is on fire, the situation in the Pats’ secondary is dire, the Steelers have a rookie quarterback, the Eagles don’t have Terrell Owens — it’s all set up for Manning, it would seem.

Except for one thing: He’s having a record-breaking season. For whatever reasons — and there probably are a bunch of them — players in the midst of record-breaking seasons don’t win a lot of championships.

And not just in football either — in any professional sport. It’s almost as if the Sports God decides, “This guy has had enough adulation for one year. The ring will have to wait.”

The major mark Manning broke this season, of course, was the one for touchdown passes. He threw a whopping 49 of them, one more than Dan Marino did with the Dolphins in 1984. But Marino, for all of his history making, lost the Super Bowl that year. And Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle, who held the record before Dan the Man, lost the championship game the season he set the mark (of 36 in ‘63), too.

It’s the same deal with the record for rushing yards. When Eric Dickerson set the current mark of 2,105 yards in ‘84, his Rams were upset in the first round of the playoffs. When O.J. Simpson set the mark before that of 2,003 yards in ‘73, his Bills didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. And when Jim Brown set the mark before that of 1,863 yards in ‘63, his Browns finished second in the Eastern Conference behind Tittle’s Giants.

What about receiving marks, you ask? Well, Jerry Rice won four Super Bowls with the 49ers, but he didn’t win one in ‘87, the year he set a record with 22 TD catches, or in ‘95, the year he set a record with 1,848 receiving yards. Strange, huh?

Then there’s the mark for receptions. Art Monk (106 in ‘84), Sterling Sharpe (108 in ‘92 and 112 in ‘93), Cris Carter (122 in ‘94), Herman Moore (123 in ‘95), Marvin Harrison (143 in ‘02) have broken it in the last 20 years, but none of them won a ring the year he went into the record book.

In other sports, it’s even worse. In other sports, record-breakers seem almost cursed — as far as their teams are concerned, at least.

The season Mark McGwire swatted 70 homers (1998), the Cardinals finished 19 games out of first. The season Barry Bonds smacked 73 (2001), the Giants missed the postseason. Just last year, Ichiro Suzuki had more hits than any other player in major league history — 262 … for all the good it did. The Mariners wound up in last place.

In the NBA, no record is more astounding than Wilt Chamberlain’s 50.4-point average in 1961-62. Alas, Wilt’s Philadelphia Warriors couldn’t get past the Celtics that season in the Eastern Division finals. In the NHL, Wayne Gretzky’s mark of 92 goals in ‘81-82 looms almost as large. But Gretzky’s Oilers were upset that year in the first round of the playoffs.

The same fate befell Bobby Hull when he set a record for goals in ‘68-69 (58). And Phil Esposito had a similarly unhappy ending when he broke Hull’s mark in 1970-71 (76). Heck, you could probably find examples of this phenomenon in team handball if you did enough digging. It appears to be that widespread.

Individual accomplishment, team disappointment. It’s a pattern we see over and over again with record-breakers. Perhaps it’s how the Big Commissioner in the Sky balances the scales, spreads the wealth around. He lets Dan Fouts pass for 4,802 yards in 1981, but then he has Fouts’ Chargers lose to the Bengals in the AFC title game — on a day when the wind chill factor is minus-59 degrees. Or he lets Nolan Ryan strike out 383 batters in ‘73 for — ha, ha, ha — a 79-83 Angels club.

It wasn’t always like this. When Roger Maris blasted 61 homers in ‘61, the Yankees won the World Series. When Johnny Unitas threw 32 touchdown passes in ‘59, the record at the time, the Colts took the title. But soon afterward, the tide began to turn — and now, it’s a veritable tsunami.

Peyton Manning might find himself longing for those days of yesteryear, depending on how the game goes Sunday. His track record against the Patriots isn’t good — 0-5 in Foxboro, 2-9 overall, five straight losses — and the track record of record-breakers, as we’ve seen, isn’t much better. Here’s hoping, for Peyton’s sake, the wind chill in New England is a wee bit warmer than minus 59.

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