The Holy Huddle: On Peyton Manning and the Fleeting Nature of Life

Each week in The Holy Huddle, Doug Hankins takes a look at the goings on of the sports world from a distinctly Christian perspective. 

At the official press conference last week, Peyton Manning choked back tears as he delivered a prepared speech to announce that he had been cut by the Indianapolis Colts after 14 years of service. He thanked the organization that drafted him in 1998, and he thanked the fans for their support. But the most haunting feature of his tear-filled delivery was the way in which Peyton framed his speech. He said, “I guess that in life and in sports we all know that nothing lasts forever.”

Did you catch that line? “In life and in sports, nothing lasts forever.”

The Peyton Manning ordeal reminds us of this: Life is fleeting. You only live once.

***

Peyton’s retirement brings a flood of personal memories for me. Even though I grew up in Texas, a committed Oilers and then Texans fan, Peyton was my favorite college player at that point in time (RGIII is the new #1). Wherever he landed, I was rooting his team. When the Colts landed the first pick in the 1998 Draft, I adopted the Colts as my new team. This was helped by the fact that my Oilers had left the previous year for Tennessee. In 2002, the same year the my hometown was awarded the Houston Texans franchise, the Colts hired Tony Dungy, my favorite NFL coach of all time. I admired Dungy as a good coach, a good man, and a solid evangelical Christian. While I rooted for the Texans out of state pride, I was already committed to the Colts and Manning. The thought of Dungy and Manning working together and playing in the same division as my new hometown team made my head explode like Terry Crews in those Old Spice commercials.

However, because the Colts proved to be a much better NFL experience than the Texans, I followed Peyton’s team with more of an invested interest. I cherished every win, even against the Texans, and I despised every loss, even to my Texans. I loved the royal blue uniforms. I loved that they played indoors. And the Colts were winners. Despite his 3-13 rookie season, Peyton led the Colts to the playoffs in each subsequent year of his tenure. The way he played, I thought that Peyton and the Colts would play on forever, like a videogame.

And like a videogame, I secretly hoped that Peyton could come play for my hometown Texans through a fluke trade — the kind that are made possible in videogames because the computer does not understand real life factors like “market value” and “cap space.” In my scenario, Peyton would leave the Colts and come lead my hometown Texans to infinite playoffs.

It was fun to make hypothetical statements with friends about Peyton coming to play for my Texans or to ask counter-factual questions about Peyton playing for other franchises. What if the 1998 draft had turned out differently? Would we experience a Peyton Butterfly Effect? It was a fun exercise.  But I never expected it to occur in reality.

And then four neck surgeries took place. And then he missed a game for the first time in 208 starts, versus the Texans. And then the Colts started off 0-13. And then the Peyton-less Colts won their first game against the same Texans in week sixteen. And then they finished 2-14. And then people started wondering if Peyton would ever be the same. And then the Colts were awarded the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And then Andrew Luck became the most prized college prospect since . . . Peyton Manning. And then the symmetry and larger narrative caught the fancy of the media. And then it caught the attention of Jim Irsay, the Colts owner. And, finally, on March 7, 2012, Peyton Manning was cut by the Indianapolis Colts.

Peyton’s greatness lured me into falsely believing that he would play forever. I used to view Michael Jordan that way. I used to view Nolan Ryan that way. I used to view Tiger Woods that way. But Peyton is the most recent example of something that God said to Adam in Genesis 3:19, “Till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Peyton will have another team to play for, perhaps even my Texans. He will likely play another 3-5 seasons and then retire. Maybe he will go into coaching. Maybe he will go into broadcasting. Maybe he will retire to a farm outside of Indianapolis and live a secluded life. Who knows for certain?

But one thing is for certain. This life in the flesh does not last forever.

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