Soon after the super beatdown at Super Bowl XLVIII, I started receiving numerous Facebook, Twitter and text messages from Broncos fans. And they all said pretty much the same thing: "Les, please talk me off the ledge. I'm so depressed (or humiliated/frustrated/embarrassed, etc)."
Okay, I'll talk you down. But first, I have a few simple questions for you. I would appreciate a simple "yes" or "no" answer…
And now, before you answer the next question, please look out the window. Is sun out today? If not today, has the sun been out any day since Super Bowl Sunday? (In case you don't remember, yes, Monday was a sunny day.)
Is the earth continuing to rotate?
Okay, you know where I'm going with this. You still have a pulse (or you wouldn't be reading this), you still have food on the table, you still have money in the bank (though still not much) and your spouse still sleeps in the bed next to you, right? Then come off the ledge!
I realize many people identify with the local football team and take great pride in said football team. But to identify with a team to the point where you're depressed, suicidal, or violent because they lost a game? Maybe you're a little too invested emotionally. It's entertainment, folks. Did this team NOT provide great fun, thrills and laughter over the last six months? I'll answer that one for you: Yes, they did!
Don't let four bad hours make you forget about the joy you experienced since training camp opened last July.
There's a saying in baseball: "There's always a game tomorrow." Well, there's always a next season in football. Oh, and Peyton Manning will be back next season. So will Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas and Montee Ball and maybe Eric Decker and maybe Knowshon Moreno and most of what was a very good offensive line.
Plus, Ryan Clady is back. The defense --- a really good run defense --- gets back its pass rusher supreme, Von Miller, and a really good cornerback in Chris Harris. Pot Roast is back, too. Do changes need to be made? Sure. This team needs to get younger and faster and more physical. Do you have faith that John Elway recognizes all this, as well, and can get it done? I do.
So, come in off that ledge. It's a football game and a football team and a football season. That's all it is. Entertainment. A game. A game that doesn't force you to make any lifestyle changes because of one win or one loss, no matter how many Roman numerals follow it. It ain't life and death and your job and your loved ones. And if you insist on being invested so emotionally, well, you can't win it every year. Nobody does. But there is a next year. There always is.
I knew Super Bowl week would be ratcheted up some in New York City, but it's even exceeded my expectations. Normally, the Super Bowl site is a convergence of the football and entertainment worlds. Here in the Big Apple, it's football, entertainment, politics and a little baseball thrown in. (The only reason there's no NBA or NHL presence is because they're in season. Otherwise, I have no doubt, LeBron and Gretzky would here.)
The first night, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Standing in the lobby of the media hotel was the Reverend Jesse Jackson. CJ and I sidled up to him --- he's a hero of CJ's --- and we had a 15 minute conversation. He was Jesse Jackson through and through. He wanted to talk football. He wanted to break down the game. But he did it in quintessential Jesse Jackson style:
"The constitution of the team revolves around the distribution of the ball. The Super Bowl mission is full of tradition."
CJ and I kept throwing glances at each other, not believing what we were hearing or who we were standing with. I spent a lot of time just biting my lip, hoping not to smile too much or break out laughing.
The lobby and Radio Row are full of stars. Howie Long, Kurt Warner, Eli Manning, Jim Brown, Hall of Fame candidate Derrick Brooks, James Brown (the TV anchor, not the singer), Joe Buck, comedian/actor Rob Riggle. Later in the week, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary are coming by to promote their upcoming movie. Baseball star Darryl Strawberry joined us Tuesday on the show. Also, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will stop by our table and talk a little football and politics.
At one point, Booger McFarland walked by and all I could think of was, "I wonder what it's like to go through life with that name. And what would he name his kids? Phlegming? If he has any Indian blood, I guess he could go with "Running Nose."
Many of the stars are pushing a product. For instance, Shannon Sharpe has promoted KFC and sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein pushes a line of chocolate. Kicker Garo Yepremian of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins brought me ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery. That's just how it works here. Everybody's whoring out something.
One of our loyal listeners sent me a Facebook message and said, "You're a bigger name-dropper than ESPN's Michael Wilbon." My response? Nope. Not name dropping. Just covering the lead-up to the Super Bowl." That's what this week is about --- parties, celebrities, interviews, selling product. But we always end up talking some football with these people and with each other. After all, that's why CJ and I are here, right? Right?
One more week and the Stress-O-Meter can be retired to the attic permanently. One more win and the National Institute of Health can declare Denver, Colorado and its environs an Anxiety Free Zone. One more Super Bowl victory and the Peyton Manning backers can raise their arms in triumph.
Or has all this stress, anxiety and Peyton Manning bashing been put to rest already?
Seems recently, the Broncos organization AND Broncos fans have been letting out collective sighs of relief. (And have you noticed all the orange and blue sunsets in recent days?) All involved seem much more at peace with the world. And that peace has led to an upsurge in confidence regarding this final football match against the Seattle Seahawks.
Hasn't been like this in a while. The source of everybody's anxiety, of course, goes back to January 12th of last year. The playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Nobody saw that coming. And when it did, well, a pall hung over Broncos Nation for days, weeks, months, hell, for one full year. In training camp, we knew this team would be good again. We knew they'd make the playoffs again. (In fact, a few of us in the media called the 2013 regular season "the longest PRE-season in the history of the game.") The test would come again in the playoffs, we presumed.
And much of what we predicted held true. The Broncos did go 13-3 again. The Broncos did win the AFC West again. Peyton Manning was great again. But now it was time to exorcise those demons from January 12th of last year. As fate would have it, the team's first playoff game was EXACTLY one year from the Baltimore disaster. This time, the opponent was an AFC West division rival, the San Diego Chargers --- a team that had beaten the Broncos at Sports Authority Field just one month previous. Talk about anxiety.
But the Broncos got it done. In strong fashion. The stress level started to subside. The nightmare of the playoff loss exactly one year ago was exorcised. Next up, another demon to be destroyed --- Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. THIS is the team that is, arguably, the Broncos biggest rival these days. THIS is the team that beat the Broncos just a few weeks ago. Tom Brady is the quarterback that has proved to be Peyton Manning's greatest nemesis. (And for what it's worth, THIS is the team that scared me more than any other in the AFC.)
And the Broncos put them down, as well. The reward was a trip to the Super Bowl. Just as importantly, the reward for the organization and the fan base was relief. Anxiety and stress, be gone! The Broncos, this year, are doing what we all expected them to do. They're playing in the 7th Super Bowl in franchise history. Peyton Manning has an opportunity to cement his legacy (in many people's eyes) as the greatest quarterback ever. And Broncos Nation could soon have another reason to celebrate, to take pride in their team, to take pride in their city/state/region.
The worry has waned. The tension has tapered off. Sure, there's one game left. And there's a lot at stake. But not as much as before. Broncos Nation is feeling a whole lot better about itself. So, clear all the anxiety pills out of the medicine cabinet. And clear some room in the attic. Looks like the Stress-O-Meter is about to be stored away -- for good.
So, now we know. If the Broncos are going to start exorcising the demons from last year's devastating first round playoff loss, it all starts with the San Diego Chargers. This, at home. Is this the best matchup possible for John Fox's men? Let's examine…
What a waste of time. Why did any of us even bother going to Sports Authority Field last Thursday night? That was lousy entertainment. The effort from the home team stunk. The only thing missing was the stench from the Greeley stockyards hanging in the air.
Do we all understand what we're watching here? Do we "get" what we're witnessing with Peyton Manning? Because, despite all the winning and his systematic destruction of the record books, I keep hearing heavy criticism. For some reason, many fans -- including some Broncos fans -- have made it their job to poke holes in anything and everything Peyton Manning accomplishes.
We SHOULD understand what we're watching. We certainly have something to compare it to. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, we had the opportunity to enjoy one of the greats, John Elway. He set a pretty high standard here when it comes to quarterback play. A great player, Hall of Fame player, with some unique qualities. He could escape the rush like few others. He could make a play when, seemingly, no play was there. He could lead a 4th quarter comeback like few others. And he had a rifle for an arm. We know this. We saw it up close. Every week for 16 years.
But we here in Denver have never seen anything like THIS. We've never seen anything as prolific as THIS. Think about it for a second. We are witnessing (possibly) the greatest season ever produced by an NFL QB. In the 93-year history of the game, nobody's done what Peyton Manning is doing. Not even #7 came close to THIS. It's extraordinary. Peyton's already broken numerous Broncos single season QB'ing records -- many of them held by Elway -- and now he has a number of league records in his sights.
So, why all the criticism? I don't get it. Because he's gotten to ONLY two Super Bowls? Because he's won ONLY one Super Bowl? Because he's won ONLY nine playoff games (which happens to be 7th all-time)? Because sometimes he's not at his best when the winds are blowing 25 mph or the temperature is 6 below zero?
I mean, seriously, what do you want from the guy?! And more importantly, WHO would you want instead? There's only one guy I MIGHT trade him out for. One. And that's Tom Brady. Brady's the only guy currently playing whom I'd consider. But -- and this might be blasphemous -- I don't know how good Brady would be without the consistency and genius of Bill Belichick as his head coach.
That's not to diminish what Brady's accomplished. Not at all. He's in my Top Three of all-time. He's talented, has a gun for an arm, has a great work ethic, he's smart-smart-smart and he's one of the few who can put a banged-up team on his shoulders and win double-digit games. He's doin' just that this year. But I've watched Peyton, from afar, win double-digit games with Jim Mora, then Tony Dungy, then Jim Caldwell. And now I'm watching him up close, doing it with John Fox. Four different coaches. Four coaches who like to do it four different ways. But the one constant is Peyton. Talk about a guy who lifts his team with his talent, his work ethic and his presence! Talk about an MVP!
And one last Manning-Brady comparison. When Tom Brady missed a year with a neck injury, how'd the Patriots do? Well, they went 11-5. With Matt Cassell at quarterback. Matt Cassell! And how'd the Colts do when Peyton Manning missed a year with a neck injury? Yeah, 2-14. Most valuable this year? It might be close in some peoples' minds, but as it's been so many times in the past, Peyton will win the award. For a fifth time. Just one more NFL record Peyton will hold.
For those of you who still want to criticize the guy, be my guest. But maybe you need to take a step back and wipe off your glasses, 'cause you ain't seein' clearly. You're witnessing (maybe) the greatest season of quarterbacking in the history of the sport. Try to appreciate it, okay?