March 8, 2012 in Sports

Manning’s exit seems familiar

Kevin Cowherd Baltimore Sun
 

Manning
(Full-size photo)

This kind of thing is always ugly.

John Unitas couldn’t have looked more miserable playing for the San Diego Chargers than if they made him play in his underwear. Joe Namath looked so out of place in a Los Angeles Rams uniform you thought he was in some grotesque “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” out-take.

Now here is Peyton Manning, another shoo-in Hall of Fame quarterback who won’t finish his career with the team he played with forever.

On television Wednesday, there were Manning and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay choking back tears as they made it official: Manning’s brilliant career with the Colts was over.

Fourteen seasons, four MVP awards, 11 playoff appearances, one Super Bowl title, countless passing records, the adulation of an entire city and state.

Didn’t matter.

Nice knowing you, Peyton, the Colts said. See you later.

“It’s never been about money,” Irsay said, and I waited for the whole room to burst out laughing, which, strangely, it never did.

Not about money?

It’s a wonder Irsay’s nose didn’t grow 4 inches right there. Manning is 36, coming off his third neck surgery, owed $28 million by Friday if the Colts had kept him.

Even in the ridiculous world of the NFL, where the inflated salaries make it sound like play money, $28 mil is $28 mil.

If the Colts could save that kind of dough and sign an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III to begin the Post-Peyton Era, why wouldn’t they do it?

Here in Baltimore on Wednesday, hundreds of miles from where Manning and Irsay were hugging each other like weepy frat brothers, Matt Stover had some idea what Manning was going through.

“It’s a business, and things change,” Stover said. “It changed for me. I never imagined not being a Raven. You don’t want it to change. But that’s the way life is.”

Stover made it clear he wasn’t comparing himself in any way to Manning. But their careers have a similar arc. Stover played 19 years for one organization, the Cleveland Browns, who went on to become the Ravens.

He was one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, and his 2,004 points are the fourth- highest in league annals. He was money just about every time he stepped on the field. And he came to symbolize the Ravens as much as Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden and Ed Reed did.

Didn’t matter.

In 2009, his final season, the Ravens told him: See ya, we’re moving in a different direction. And Stover went off to kick and point to the heavens for the Indianapolis Colts, a surreal experience after all those years of wearing purple and black.

“It was disappointing in my mind that I ended up in a Colts uniform and not a Ravens uniform,” he said. “There was no shock, no surprise and no sadness. There was disappointment, but no regret.”

Playing that one year in Indy, though, Stover’s respect for Manning soared.

“Peyton is the consummate pro,” Stover said, “a man who prepared as well as anyone I ever saw. He required the people around him to do the same thing. He set the standard and the rest of the team followed.”

Now Manning moves on, as Stover did, and Stover explains it away with a variation of the great line consigliore Tom Hagen used in “The Godfather”: “It’s business, not personal.”

“We played long enough to see the business long enough,” Stover said.

After I talked to Stover, I called Raymond Berry, the great Hall of Fame wide receiver with the old Baltimore Colts.

If anyone remembers Unitas trying to hang on with the Chargers in 1973 despite torn arm muscles, and Namath doing the same on gimpy knees four years later with the Rams, it’s Berry.

See any parallels there with Manning? With him leaving the Colts and wanting to play after another neck surgery?

“You can’t help but see them,” Berry said. “They all had a tremendous competitive spirit, and combine it with the injury factor and (wanting to hang on) and it repeats itself through era after era of football. And it comes up in really dramatic form with quarterbacks.”

Do you find it a bit sad?

“Yeah,” he said.

Me, too.


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