Since the 20th century, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant have been among the greatest to play their games – Manning for 18 years in the NFL, Bryant for 20 years in the NBA.
They’ve been so good for so long, they’re often just referred to by their distinctive first names.
Well, Sports Nation wants Peyton and Kobe to step aside.
Both have been slowed by age and injury, neither is near his playing prime.
Manning, 39, was suffering through his worst season when he incurred a torn plantar fascia in his left foot Nov. 15; before and after the injury, many fans and media types were screaming for him to retire.
Bryant, 37, had injuries end his last three seasons, and after starting this season in the worst shooting slump of his career, many fans and media types were shouting for him to retire; on Nov. 29, he announced this would be his final season.
Boy, that’s a tough crowd out there.
Why are we forever in a rush to send our brightest stars off the stage and into retirement?
It’s their life, their craft. If you play a game for a living and you love it, you want to make sure you’ve played all the games you can before you move on with the rest of your life. Because the rest of your life involves a lot of handshakes, meetings, testimonial dinners and conversations with people who want to know if you’d be interested in lending your name to a car dealership.
An athlete’s professional mortality stares at him quickly and harshly. Accountants, lawyers, dieticians, hair stylists, meat processing operators, surgical footwear makers, dental hygienists, cloak room attendants, forensic psychologists, film house ushers and organ grinders can keep doing their work well past middle age; by the time most jocks turn 30, they’re over the hill.
If Picasso were told artists had a mandatory retirement age, he wouldn’t have discovered neo-expressionism in his eighties.
Verdi composed sublime operas such as “Otello” and “Falstaff” when in his seventies.
Karl Wallenda was still walking the high wire into his seventies; what else was he going to do, take a desk job at Aflac?
Heck, like many of the great ones, I don’t write or think as well as I did a generation ago. But it’s all I know. What, I’m supposed to hang up my Royal manual in the garage? And then what – go get my pilot’s license and take a shot at the NASA space program?
(Column Intermission: By the way, I could’ve written about Manning’s alleged HGH use this week. But what we don’t know is more than what we do know – keep that in mind when you listen to all the talking-head gasbags making instantaneous proclamations about matters such as this. Which reminds me of why I no longer do talk-radio segments. Sometimes they’d ask me a question and I would answer, “I don’t know.” What do know is this – if you say, “I don’t know,” on talk radio, they stop calling you.)
So what if Peyton and Kobe aren’t what they once were? As it was with Willie Mays stumbling around the Mets outfield or Frank Sinatra still playing tour dates with a greatly diminished voice. All of these all-time greats might’ve been beyond great in their later years, but it was and is wonderful to watch as they try to recapture the great in them.
Maybe Kobe will score 81 points in a game again. Or miss 81 shots in a game.
Maybe Peyton will throw 55 touchdowns in a season again. Or throw 55 interceptions.
I’m fine with it either way. Once their physical gifts are gone, it’s fascinating – even inspirational – to watch the illustrious ones struggle and adjust.
So let Kobe brick another 23-footer. Let Peyton underthrow another open receiver. Because for either one of them, the next shot or the next pass might be their best ever.
We should revel in great lives challenged by the cycle of life.
(See? Twenty years ago, I would’ve written, “And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe / And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot / And thereby hangs a tale.” But at this point of my fading, faux literary career, we have to settle for, “We should revel in great lives challenged by the cycle of life.”
Ask The Slouch
Q. I have been watching a lot of football and it seems that no matter which way a player runs, the ESPN guys refer to it as “downhill.” Can you settle once and for all as to which direction that is? (Randy Thorne; Point Pleasant, W.Va.)
A. Definitely downhill.
Q. Will the Tennessee Titans apply for relocation so that Chip Kelly can’t find them? (Roger Strauss; Silver Spring, Md.)
A. You make me laugh, you make 10 bits.
Q. What is a Dabo Swinney, and can you get it with automatic transmission? (Howard Walderman; Columbia, Md.)
A. This is worth 10 bits, too, and I’m not even sure why.
Q. Who looks more like a failed country-and-western star, Rams coach Jeff Fisher or a failed country-and-western star? (Michael A. Becker; St. Louis, Mo.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!
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