On Sunday, the 2014 NFL season mercifully ended with what should have been remembered as an all-time classic Super Bowl. Yes, the game itself was a nail-biter, topped off by a preposterous finish. But unless they hail from New England or the Pacific Northwest, most NFL devotees have no real reason to be satisfied, because the game featured two franchises whose fan bases are so notoriously obnoxious that the rest of us were probably rooting for a tie score that left them agonizingly deadlocked for the rest of eternity.
It doesn’t help that many of the Super Bowl XLIX players and coaches aren’t exactly brimming with charisma or lofty Q ratings. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady might be the best coach and QB in NFL history (though if I had to win one game, I’m taking Joe Montana without hesitation). They might also be outright cheaters. Either way, they’re relentlessly smug about everything they do. The most redeeming Patriot might be the fun-loving Rob Gronkowski, a mindless meathead best consumed in small doses—only now we’re getting him in big gulps.
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Over on the Seattle side, we have Pete Carroll, another upbeat dude. He’s definitely unconventional for a football coach, but his “attaboy” enthusiasm has always seemed slick and disingenuous. Russell Wilson is widely regarded as a class act, but his teammates Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch are poster boys for polarization. (I don’t have a problem with either of them; the NFL needs more players to stand up to its obsessive and hypocritical defense of The Brand.) And then there are Seahawks such as the motor-mouthed Doug Baldwin, whose outspokenness might carry more impact if he wasn’t a glorified third wideout. Having Baldwin so front and center is a little like a baseball team making a middle reliever the face of its franchise.
The only thing that might wash away the bitter aftertaste the NFL left for most of us in 2014 is a great 2015. Here in Denver, that’s starting to look more and more like ManningMania IV. After the Broncos sputtered to the finish line, it seemed possible, if not likely, that the next time Peyton Manning showed his face on a gridiron it would be as a member of someone’s front office. The Broncos’ hiring of Gary Kubiak as head coach further cemented this impression, because the styles of the two men supposedly don’t mesh.
But after a few weeks on the mend and some productive conversations with his new would-be coach, reports say Manning’s leaning toward one more season under center. None of this will be certain until his annual physical in early March, but his return is starting to make sense, and not just because he’d be leaving $19 million on the table if he retired.
Think about it: If your team has a top-notch defense, running game, and receiver corps heading into a season, you don’t necessarily need an elite QB to win a whole lot of football games and be a genuine contender. The Broncos, with some offseason tweaking and additions, should be able to easily check off each of those items.
It might be sacrilegious to lump Peyton Freaking Manning in with signal-callers like Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill—competent players who above all, avoid mistakes. But to the Broncos’ fans and brass, a limited Manning is surely preferable to an unknown Brock Osweiler or whoever else they might bring in. With Manning in the undeniable twilight of his career, if they can put a rock-solid team around him and convert number 18 from a savior to an extremely efficient game-manager, that might be precisely the right formula that brings some long-lost sweetness back to the Orange.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.