The old man still have a little bit left in the tank. So while all the bettors were lining up and putting down their money on the New England Patriots to defeat the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, Peyton Manning was too busy trying to wreck the house by leading his team to one more Super Bowl appearance.
Go ahead, make his day. Watching Manning go up against Tom Brady and the “Patriot Way” aura, was like watching Gary Cooper going up against the bad guys in the small town showdown in “High Noon.” If you remember, Cooper was the ruffled, moralist marshal who had already seen his best gunslinger days.
Cooper’s famous character, Will Cane, was left holding on to whatever cache his past reputation had earned him when he encountered a band of murderers single-handily in the 1952 film. Not to take away any drama from the hit Western, eventually Cane survived. You might say the same about Manning.
The “Sheriff” and the rest of the Broncos survived the test Brady and the Patriots put before them, and and now have a date with Super Bowl 50.
The “Patriot Way” just found an alternate route. But the last time we saw Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, they were getting clobbered and ran out of the building by the Seattle Seahawks a couple of years ago.
That was the year, Manning threw for 5, 477 yards and 55 touchdowns, and powered the Broncos to the No. 1 offensive unit in the National Football League (NFL). This year, Manning, at the age of 39, statistically speaking, would be one one that he’d rather forget.
After three years of putting up robust numbers that has seared the stratosphere (14, 863 yards, 131 touchdowns), the 2015 season was almost like hitting the reset button for Manning as he struggled mightily throwing the football and getting any type of zip behind his passes. Father Time catches up everyone, and clearly, it has caught up with Manning.
During the 2015 NFL season, Manning only completed nine (9) touchdown passes in 10 games. He was benched because of inadequate play. But just like Will Cane, Manning, battered, bruised and pretty much left for scrap heap, is proving he still has the mental wit to match the couple of bullets he has left in the chamber.
In the twilight of his career, Manning can no longer depend on just slinging it all over the field the way he used to do. As he did against the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, when the Broncos face off against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Manning is going to have to outsmart the young guns. And then he is going to need some help. It’s that plain and simple.
In the finality scene of “High Noon, ” Will Cane is confronted with his own mortality as readies himself to take on the bad guys. But then Cane finds himself not alone in fighting this battle as the town comes out finally to support their marshal. Will we see this scenario play out in Super Bowl 50?
Manning is Will Cane. This is it for the “Sheriff.” Manning knows it. Everyone else knows it. It’s win and go out riding off in the sunset on a white horse or go home faltering the final tethers of a historic career. This will be the Broncos eighth trip to the Super Bowl. Their record is 2-7 in the biggest game of the year.
The legend himself, John Elway, led the Broncos to their 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl victories. Now Elway is hoping Manning can add a third banner to the Mike High rafters. But the support Manning is going to need is going to have to come from his superior defense and the resolute offensive machinery behind him. He can’t do it by himself anymore.