The initial reaction to a question like that is probably going to be “Are you Crazy? Of course Peyton wants his team to win.” The fact that it is Peyton Manning, the ultimate team guy, makes it an even crazier statement. No way Manning, who by most accounts is one of the greatest competitors to ever lace them up, roots for the team that drafted him #1 overall to lose.
No way, right?
Deep down, when he is alone and in pain from his second neck surgery, how can he not be hoping that the team he has led for over 200 consecutive games and a Super Bowl falters in his absence? Although you will never publicly hear him admit it, a part of him (albeit small) is secretly rooting against his team.
Right now, this isn’t his team. This is Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter’s team.
The thing that makes Peyton Manning great is the thing that makes most elite athletes the best at what they do. An unwavering belief that they are the best at what they do in any situation. He believes that he is the main reason the Colts have been an elite franchise. If the team is successful without him, it challenges that assumption.
Elite athletes are wired to be selfish human beings. They are selfish on the field and they are selfish off the field. Wanting the glory to be all about you is selfish. Staying away from your family for long stretches of time is selfish. Wanting to be the best is selfish.
I don’t mean to imply that elite athletes are bad husbands and fathers, far from it actually. The sacrifices they make are to give their family a better life. But asking someone to raise kids by themselves for long stretches at a time can’t be anything but selfish. The fact that they find someone who balances their selfishness with selflessness allows them to be good fathers and husbands.
When you think of selfish players, you think of Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss and anybody who has been dubbed “me first” or has ever held out for a better contract or demanded a trade. The fans view those guys as doing what is only in the best interest for them. Manning didn’t have to hold out because the team knew they had to sign him or sink to Cavalier-like irrelevance in an instant so he is spared being the selfish guy. St. Louis Cardinals fans will face the same situation with Albert Pujols in a few months.
Guys like Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers get to be “team winner guys” because they have won a ring without causing waves. The truth is though, in the cases of Brady and Rodgers, selfishness is what put them in the position they were in. If Brady had been unselfish in 2001, he would have stepped aside because an established veteran like Drew Bledsoe gave the team a better chance to win. If Aaron Rodgers hadn’t been selfish, Jenn Sterger wouldn’t have been the one to get the dong shots from Favre.
Sure it is difficult to imagine Manning not want his team to win, but just think how it must feel to go from being the guy to being a cheerleader. If the Colts have success, it will be at the hand of a guy who was retired three weeks ago. Think of how Trent Green felt when he saw a bag boy go from Super Market to Super Bowl. The aforementioned Drew Bledsoe was classy as Tom Brady took his spot, but deep down you have to imagine he was seething at being replaced by the skinny kid sixth rounder.
Maybe manning isn’t rooting for the team to lose as much as he is rooting for the team not to win without him. Like Tom Brady the year he went down the first game of the season, he is probably hoping the team plays well but isn’t really a championship contender.
Making the team a championship contender is a job he isn’t going to want to give up that easily.