The Big One Doesn't Get Away
MIAMI He walked off the field winner of the Big One at last and into applause beneath the Dolphin Stadium stands Sunday night. Camera lights flashed and a league publicity man came up to greet Peyton Manning, then pointed down the hall toward the interviews.
And on the night he won a Super Bowl, Peyton Manning walked behind a barricade through a tunnel. Stadium workers done for the night stopped in their steps and clapped. Some shouted his name. Manning smiled, but never stopped. Beside him were two Broward County Sheriff's Office escorts in yellow rain jackets. They kept pushing him forward, toward a door where a gantlet of soldiers stood in brown uniforms. When the soldiers saw Peyton Manning on the night he finally won a Super Bowl they began to whoop and shout. And maybe this is where the best quarterback on the brink of being defined by significant defeats realized just what he had done.
He turned his head and mouthed the words "thank you."
Then Manning walked into a giant room, past a sign that read "Winning Coach and Super Bowl MVP," climbed a short staircase, stood behind an interview table and exhaled.
"It's nice to be able to hoist the trophy this year," he said.
All around him, the questions flew about the biggest win of his life and he shrugged and frowned and made "aw, shucks" motions with his lips. He said it "was a great team win" and "we did it together" and all the other things he says to deflect the spotlight.
But, yes, something changed in a monsoon Sunday night. History rewrote itself even as the field gave way and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts stumbled across the grass. Peyton Manning, the reigning Greatest Current Quarterback Never to Win the Big One, had become the game's biggest winner. No one can deny that.
As Manning spoke on the stage, his father, Archie, walked up to the entrance of the hallway that leads to the locker rooms. Archie wore a blue suit and did not know where to go. He held his credential and looked at stadium guards, who simply looked back and shrugged.
"I don't know where Peyton is," Archie said. Then, getting no answer, he began to walk down the hall.
He was asked if it felt good to stop hearing that his most famous son was unable to win the games that mattered most. And he chuckled.
"I won't deny that it hurts," he said. "It's a bunch of baloney, really."
They had not seen each other this week even though both were here in Florida. Archie kept a schedule making visits, doing interviews, while Peyton kept a low profile, participating in only the public appearances required by the NFL and otherwise remaining somewhat secluded at the team's hotel next to the beach in Fort Lauderdale.