Manning Only a Scapegoat
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:01
This Saturday, it was once again proven that Peyton Manning doesn’t step up in the playoffs.
Or so some might tell you.
Was Peyton Manning the one who forgot what a prevent defense was when he let a wide receiver get open 50 yards down the field — bringing to life the only scenario that could save the Baltimore Ravens’ season? And a player should be solely judged by his team’s performance in the playoffs — championships are what matters, right?
The only problem with that belief is that it goes against absolutely everything we hear about professional team sports. The notions of winning and losing as a unit are gone.
In fact, this weekend provided three examples of judging one player by uncontrollable circumstances around him — all three, unsurprisingly, were quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers was supposed to singlehandedly torch the San Francisco 49ers in an act of vengeance for their failure to draft him No. 1 overall in 2005, but he was “beaten by a QB making his eighth career start” (as some like to point out), even though he had a pretty good game. Matt Ryan “finally won in the playoffs,” but if his kicker had missed a last-second field goal, he would have been the guy who “can’t win the big one.”
Too often, professional athletes are judged by what goes on around them, and the more I hear people’s reasons for justifying this way of thinking, the less I understand it. Tom Brady is apparently better than Peyton Manning because of his three rings to Peyton’s one, even though the same people arguing as such — many of them football “experts” — proclaim that Bill Belichick’s great defenses were the winning formula.
The biggest victim of this unfair viewpoint is LeBron James. Before he won a title last year, LeBron was deemed an overrated playoff choker; never mind that some NBA writers are now using the Cleveland general manager’s handling of the LeBron years as a punch line. I honestly think that I could have given LeBron a better supporting cast if I had the seven years that General Manager Danny Ferry did.
Apparently, Dwyane Wade was a better player than LeBron — despite LeBron’s superior offensive stats and astounding ability to guard all five positions — because “Wade had something to show for it” in the form of a championship ring. “Having more to show for it” is an actual argument that I’ve heard from many LeBron haters, who are probably the same people who say that Brady is better than Manning simply because of “three to one.” I’ve had many arguments over LeBron, and a bunch have featured the idea that the top-seeded Cavs lost to an inferior Orlando Magic team in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals because LeBron couldn’t step up in the playoffs.
My favorite response, and the only response that I’ll ever need, is a trivia question: LeBron’s scoring average during that series? 38.5 points per game, a figure that is absolutely insane. By comparison, Michael Jordan’s career points average in the playoffs was 33.4. LeBron’s 38.5 ppg in that series also went with the 32 and 33.8 he scored in the first two playoff series that season, respectively — despite his resting late in games because his team had such big leads. And yet many say that it’s his fault he didn’t have a ring to show for his efforts that spring, meaning that he really can’t be that good of a basketball player.
We would never think this way outside of athletics. To make a comparison to academics, have you ever gotten a lower grade than expected on a group project and then felt as if your individual performance deserved better than the group as a whole?
The worst is when such an unwarranted narrative becomes attached to a player’s identity. Derek Jeter won four World Series in his first five years, and ever since then, he’s been portrayed as one of the greatest athletes of his generation. Alex Rodriguez, who has gained a reputation for choking in the clutch, once yelled at an infielder in order to make him miss the pop-up because he’s a spoiled brat who doesn’t respect the game. Two years ago, though, when Jeter faked being hit by a pitch to get to first base, the media ascribed his unsportsmanlike actions to the fact that he would do anything to win.
Kobe Bryant is another example. When Kobe finally won a ring without Shaquille O’Neal in 2009, his label changed from “selfish ballhog and questionable human being” to “best and most competitive player in the game.” His 2003 sexual assault case almost immediately vanished from everyone’s mind.
In team sports, individual athletes are judged by uncontrollable actions around them, affecting the perceptions of them both as a winner and as a human being. When people think about anything in a lazy manner, it inevitably hinders their understanding of the situation. The judgment of athletes in team sports is no different.
Tom Hoff is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.