Sunday, December 04, 2005


What do these famous people have in common?


Once upon a time, somewhat long ago, the Colts drafted a buck-toothed blond guy from a California university with the #1 overall draft pick. He was the next coming of Johnny Unitas, they said. The Colts were coming off years of sub-.500 seasons, culminating in a winless 0-8-1 record during the strike season of 1982. Not so fast, said the buck-toothed guy, who could pass for Mr. Ed. “Wilburrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrsay, I’m not eating oats with any of your colts. They’re scrawny and I don’t like how they smell.” So Wilbursay was forced to ship the buck-toothed guy westward into the sunset. Turns out he ended up in a better place, where he could really git it on with the bucking broncos.

The Denver Broncos can thank Bob Irsay for their good fortune in the 1990’s, when they won two Super Bowl titles and were consistently strong contenders in the AFC. Around the time the buck-toothed guy, who we all know to be John Elway, retired, the Colts – who had little to show in the last 15 years except an undignified midnight move westward on I-70 (as one Bawlmor waitress said, “India-naaaaaaa-polis, you gotta be kiddin’.”) – once again had the #1 overall pick. This time, they had the option of picking up another guy with a somewhat nicer horseface, but the same strong competitive spirit. Peyton Manning, unlike John Elway, bit the bullet, signed a contract, and shipped his own rookie butt off to training camp in Terre Haute.

Since 1998, Peyton Manning been everything, and more, to the Colts, just as John Elway was with the Broncos last decade. This season, he will potentially lead the Colts to the NFL's first undefeated season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Unfortunately, for every Peyton Manning and John Elway, there is a David Carr and Michael Vick. Drafted #1 overall by their respective teams, they have shown flashes of excellence – Vick more so than Carr lately – but haven’t been nearly that good enough to enable their teams to dominate the NFL. (I tend to believe the Texans’ 2005 season is an exception.) Of course, there’s Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf (picked #2 overall), but that’s another article entirely.

Peyton Manning has become so good, he’s scary to the point where I’m starting to root for teams to beat the Colts and wipe the Tennessee Volunteer’s smirk off his face. But that’s not going to stop me from respecting Peyton Manning as a person. He had the grace and fortitude to accept his chances with the team who drafted him – the same team who had been incredibly awful the year before with a 3-13 record, and did no better than 9-7 since 1983.

John Elway refused to play for the Colts when he was drafted – indeed, he threatened to play baseball for the New York Yankees. He said he wasn’t going to play for a team with lousy management and lousy players. Sure, if I got a job offer from Sunbeam in Boca Raton, Florida, I would turn that offer down because I don’t want to work for lousy management.

But the NFL isn’t like any company. Athletes work so hard to get into the NFL, that when they get drafted, they don’t have the ability to leverage their potential in order to transfer to a better team before they even play their first NFL snap. John Elway certainly was confident enough in his physical abilities to believe he could stick it to any team and force that team to trade him.

For that I don’t give Elway any respect. Imagine I was a defensive back drafted in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers. Do I want to play for the 49ers? No way. I hate John York – he literally busted apart a storied organization. I hate Mike Nolan even more -- he was the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins not so long ago, with the unique gift to turn his own defense into a leaky sieve. But do I have a choice? I could sit tight and tell them I won’t sign a contract unless they give me more money than the guy 2 picks ahead of me. But would I risk giving up a year of developing my physical and mental talents in order to get back into the NFL draft? No, because my draft stock will go down and I will be drafted in the 4th round or even lower, for less money. It’s not worth the risk. So I’ll suck it up and play for the 49ers.

Bryant McKinnie tried this tactic, daring the Vikings to put him back in the draft 3 years ago after he was picked high in the first round. It’s not easy, mind you, to negotiate with Red McCombs, but hell, a first-round draft pick will get you lots of money no matter what, much more than 2nd round money. Once the season started, McKinnie lost all kinds of leverage, including the potential of being traded to another team.

So when John Elway told the Colts to shove it, he was indirectly sending a message to every other player drafted that year – and all other players drafted in the past – that he was above them all and could play for any team. It’s rare for someone to have that kind of privilege.

Peyton Manning could have told the Colts to shove it. So did Tim Couch. And Michael Vick (well, sort of. The Falcons weren’t that bad, having been one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and traded up from their #5 slot). And, god bless him, David Carr, who has been on his back far more often than Creek’s mom. He’s withstood so many carpet-bombing attacks, you could put him in Dresden in 1945 and come out without so much as a scratch.

They bit the bullet, knowing that if they worked hard and took their hits, they could someday be one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL. Peyton Manning could just as easily gone the way of Tim Couch, and Couch himself could have gone on to guide the Colts to the Super Bowl. Who knew?

John Elway didn’t go the way of these quarterbacks, by playing for a bottom-feeding team and cutting his teeth in the league. Someday, Peyton Manning’s brother Eli – who himself pulled an Elway when he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers – will take the New York Giants to the Super Bowl. It won’t change my opinion of little Elisha. He looked plain silly holding that Chargers jersey and standing there like a petulant child.

What does Archer have to do with all this, you say. Well, I just thought this would make a nice title, that’s all.

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