Remember “Castaway,” the 2000 drama that starred Tom Hanks and a personified volleyball as the lone inhabitants of a South Pacific island?
Watching part of the movie on TV the other day, it occurred to me how a similarly remote island might be a perfect place for Peyton Manning to spend his overdue retirement from football.
Not necessarily perfect for Manning. Between having to wear a loincloth around his not-always-private parts and replacing Papa John’s pizza with speared fish, he’d go crazy. But I’d rather he go crazy than for him to hang around as an NFL executive, or broadcaster, driving me crazy.
Manning first appeared in headlines in 1994, when the national high school player of the year announced his plans to attend the University of Tennessee instead of Ole Miss, alma mater of his famous father, Archie. That was 22 years ago, when Peyton Manning was an authentic quarterback instead of the ubiquitous pitchman who devoted the crowning moment of his career to shilling for a company that calls itself the “King of Beers.”
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Aside from his once-obvious talent, Manning has had an ability to convince those around him — and those not around him — that he’s the most convivial, warmhearted sports star since Babe Ruth promised to hit home runs for hospitalized children.
The legacy is losing its traction. Last week, a group of women filed a lawsuit against Tennessee for creating a “hostile sexual environment” at the school in violation of the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX. Manning was cited in the lawsuit for his allegedly lewd conduct with a female trainer in 1996.
(She sued Manning and the case was resolved out of court. The trainer filed a subsequent defamation-of-character lawsuit against Manning in 2003 after the publication of his ghost-written autobiography. That also was settled out of court.)
Young adult males are prone to doing stupid things, and young adult males usually grow up. If it’s true that Manning behaved like a creep in college, I’ll pass on the chance to judge him 20 years later, because I’m a stupid-things veteran whose only saving grace during college was my fear of first dates turning into trainwrecks.
But there’s a Teflon aspect to this old story that applies to a report in late December by the Al Jareeza America news agency, alleging that human growth hormone shipments were delivered to Manning’s Denver-area house from Indianapolis. Although the report was recanted by the original source, somewhat suspiciously, a second source confirmed it.
Manning denied the report in the same defiant tone we heard from Lance Armstrong and hundreds of others, but it rattled him to the point that he hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer as a public-relations consultant.
Fleischer had worked previously on restoring the sullied reputations of Mark McGwire (steroids) and Tiger Woods (you name it), as well as promoting the unapparent virtues of college football’s defunct Bowl Championship Series.
Before focusing on sports, Fleischer’s job was to help convince the public that factories producing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq required U.S. military intervention, which revealed no evidence of Iraqi factories producing weapons of mass destruction.
If ever I’m challenged to restore my reputation, I can think of about 300 million Americans whose advice I’d value more than Ari Fleischer’s. But Manning sensed he was backed into a corner, and turned to somebody well-versed on what to say when backed into a career.
Between us? I don’t give a rip if Peyton Manning used HGH to expedite his healing from neck surgery. The substance is prohibited by the NFL — wink, wink — but if the league had a real concern with HGH, it would implement a real policy.
My issue with Manning is about his determination to remain a nuisance. The Broncos’ 24-10 upset of the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 had next to nothing to do with the Denver quarterback, who completed 15 passes, none in the fourth quarter.
Manning was intercepted once, lost what could have been a game-changing fumble, and essentially was reduced to a take-the-snap-and-hand-off-the-ball maintenance man whose repetitions, on a scale of 1-10, never exceeded a degree of difficulty beyond 2.
And yet there he was afterward, basking in the confetti, embracing the pizza-franchise baron — who happens to be his business partner — before shaking anybody else’s hand.
Go away, dude. Get off my television screen and relocate to some South Pacific island stocked with a million cases of the beer brand you like so much that you mentioned it twice during your postgame Super Bowl interviews on the field.
Just don’t forget to bring a volleyball painted with a smile. After 22 years as a football newsmaker, it’s the only audience that’ll never get tired of you.