After leading a season in which his new team saw a return to relevance by taking several turns on the national stage during the regular season, Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos were exposed as nothing more than an attempt to buy something another team that developed from within, were more deserving of.
My father used to refer to the Yankees and their annual attempts at “buying the pennant,” when I was a kid growing up in New York. I used to silently stew while dad was enjoying a good run of fortune with his N.Y. Mets (his adopted team after the Giants moved to San Francisco) in 1969, as all throughout the sixties, well, specifically after 1964 and through 1975, the Yankees endured one of their lousiest stretches ever.
George Steinbrenner bought a Yankees franchise in decay in 1973 and immediately went about the process of restoring this once great team to its former, seemingly perpetual and annual, runs to pennant glory.
Steinbrenner was not at all about patience and began spending lavishly on free agents as soon as he could. Although the team made the World Series in 1976, they were embarrassingly swept by the Cincinnati Reds in that Fall Classic. But the tone was set. Steinbrenner, each and every year thereafter, was not about to lose a pennant, let alone a world series ever again, for lack of spending, I mean, trying.
Go big or go home.
It is the American way.
Yet sports are a great equalizer and sensei to this way of doing business.
Each and every year the Yankees assemble the best team money can buy. They gladly pay out luxury tax to small market teams as the price of having a payroll that exceeds the Collective Bargaining Agreement threshold—all in the name of putting the best possible product on the field for its fans.
Money buys a lot of things, a lot of material stuff, many items we can put our fingers on. But money does not have the power to assure the outcome of either baseball or football or basketball or any team sports’ seasons. The fact is that while money can purchase the best players available, the games still have to be played on the fields and courts.
What happens within the confines of team environments—whether on the playing field or around the water cooler, is what determines who wins.
We have leaders and followers. We have those in search of individual accolades who are in contract years and playing for one last big payday to be signed off on during the off season.
In the case of the Denver Broncos, they failed to do their homework.
I am not speaking of the infamous four Manning neck surgeries and what he might or might not have had left in the tank, when they were in the process of making him an offer he could not refuse.
Their arrogance at selling both Manning and their fan base on a dream that could not ever be realized was only outdistanced by the depth of the disappointment they experienced Saturday evening.
In Peyton’s Place Won’t Be Here I touched upon the fact that aging, high-priced veteran quarterbacks on their second teams rarely enjoy any success beyond the age of 35.
But now that we understand it is fact that professional athletes are physically in decline after 35 and great QBs never are as great after leaving their long-time teams for someplace new, we still want to see Peyton make another run next year.
Sadly, it will not be nearly as pretty as this year was up until Saturday.
But Denver’s John Elway will privately take solace in the fact the team made the playoffs again—having had the stones to take a flyer on a first ballot Hall of Famer having another Super Bowl run in him.
Money brought Peyton here, but players drafted and developed into a veteran team that played together when it mattered most at crunch time sent him home.