Reflections Blog

Peyton Manning and a Moment of Silence


On September 20, 2010, 23-year-old Denver Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley was found dead in his home.  Investigators have since called his death a suicide.  Like many Broncos fans in Colorado, I was shocked by the death of this player and perplexed about why he would take his own life.  He was one of the few college athletes who had made it to the pros.  He appeared to be living his dream, but he was apparently haunted by something that led him to make a desperate decision.

Six days later, my wife and I were in Denver to see the Broncos play the Indianapolis Colts at Invesco Field.  Sitting near us in the stands were two young men wearing Broncos tee-shirts.  They introduced themselves (I’ll call them Joe and Mike).  Between gulps of beer, Joe said he disliked the Colts and especially hated Peyton Manning.  (In case you don’t follow American football, Manning is the quarterback for the Colts.)  Some of what he said about Manning was so bizarre that we tried to ignore him and just enjoy the spectacle of the pre-game activities on the field.

After the playing of the national anthem, as the teams stood on their respective sidelines waiting for the game to begin, the announcer asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence in honor of the Broncos’ fallen teammate.  As McKinley’s face was shown on the large stadium screen, the crowd gradually became silent, many people bowing their heads.  It was an appropriately solemn moment.

Then, fifteen seconds into that moment of silence, we were startled when Joe suddenly yelled, at the top of his lungs, “Manning, you suck!”

He was so loud, and the stadium had been so quiet, it’s hard for me to imagine that every one of the 76,000 people in the stands hadn’t heard him.  Scores of people in the stands below us turned and looked at him, some shaking their heads, others eying him in disgust.  His outburst was disrespectful not only to the Colts and Peyton Manning (who no doubt is used to catcalls from idiots) but also to a stadium full of football fans, the Broncos team, and most of all the family of Kenny McKinley. 

That moment of silence wasn’t about football, and it wasn’t about Peyton Manning; it was about the tragedy of a young man dying well before his time. 

At another football game that took place the day before the Broncos-Colts game, a stadium full of fans had a far different reaction to the opposing team.  In Lincoln, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, ranked sixth in the nation, played the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  The South Dakota team was 0-3 on the year and was considered to be a substantially weaker team than Nebraska, which had run through the Washington Huskies the week before and beaten them at home 56-21. 

Some sportswriters predicted results like 65-0 or 56-3, with the Jackrabbits limping back home after a ferocious beating.  But in fact they played the Cornhuskers very tough and lost by only 17-3.  Had a few plays gone differently, the score might have been even closer.  Everyone at the game that day recognized how well the South Dakota State team had played.  When the Jackrabbits were leaving the field, their fans visiting from South Dakota stood and applauded—and thousands of Nebraska fans joined them.

That showed class.

It reminded me of an event that occurred at the end of the Civil War.  One of the North’s most heralded generals was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  He was responsible for a desperate stand at the Battle of Gettysburg that saved the battle for the Union army.  Years later, when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Grant asked Chamberlain to preside when the Confederate troops marched past the Union army and laid down their arms.  Chamberlain formed the Union troops in a long line, and when the Confederates marched past, ordered his men to salute.  That salute was a gesture of honor and respect for an army of fellow Americans who had been noble opponents in our nation’s most costly war.

That showed class, too.

Maybe this is about one belligerent drunk with no class, but it seems more common today to diss your opponents.  It’s another election season again, and we hear it every day in political ads and on talk shows like Meet the Press.  Politicians can’t answer a question without disparaging their opponents, and the negative ads get more outrageous with each election.  We’re living in an age of name calling and bluster.  Worse, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the opponents deserve it or whether the allegations are true.                 

But at least in this Broncos-Colts game, the belligerent name-caller got his comeuppance.  Denver’s quarterback, Kyle Orton, threw for 476 yards but had two interceptions (the Broncos had another turnover on a punt return fumble).  Peyton Manning threw for only 325 yards but had three touchdown passes and no interceptions.  He capitalized on Broncos’ mistakes, completed third-down passes when it mattered, and showed great awareness and athleticism throughout the game.  The final result:  Colts 27-Broncos 13.

Manning is human and is obviously not perfect, but he is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the game.  Since joining the NFL, he has made ten Pro Bowl appearances, won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award four times, led the Colts to a Superbowl victory in 2007 (and was named MVP of that game).  I don’t have room to cite his other awards and records as a quarterback.  Suffice it to say the list is long.

By almost anyone’s standards, he is a superb quarterback.  And on this day, he didn’t suck at al

(Photos by Terry Bacon)

Copyright  ©2010 by Terry R. Bacon.  All rights reserved.

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