Poised, Calm, Cool
This is Peyton Manning’s 12th season in the NFL. You would think that after all this time we’d have seen all his tricks. But, last night against the Miami Dolphins he pulled another rabbit out of his hat. Peyton Manning has suited up in a Colts uniform for 178 regular season games. He has won 119 of them. 37 times he has lead his team in the fourth quarter to a come from behind victory. I have always felt honored to be a fan of his. He understands the great blessing he has of being one of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL…what a privilege it is to be in his position as a human being and as an athlete. Last night, he reminded us all of how incredibly humbling it is to be even considered in the same breath as a man whose career was over before Peyton was ever born.
Johnny Unitas has always been described as the ultimate field general. The man who could walk on a football field poised, calm, cool, and lead his team down the field to score whatever points they needed to win the game. He did that 118 times in his 18 year career. And until last night he was the winningest quarterback to ever wear a horseshoe on his helmet.
Last night, the Colts controlled the ball against the Dolphins for 14 minutes and 53 seconds. Yes, you read that right. 14:53! The game is 60 minutes long. That’s less than a quarter of the game. They had 3 plays in the entire 3rd quarter. And here’s the kicker…they won the game. Let me repeat that. THEY WON THE GAME! The Dolphins scored 23 points, controlling the ball for 45 minutes and 7 seconds. The Colts scored 27 points. The NFL started keeping time of possession stats in 1977. Since then, no team has controlled the ball for less than 15 minutes and still won the game, but then again, no one ever asked Peyton Manning if he could do that.
It’s not how long you have the ball. It’s what you do with it when you have it.
With the win last night, Peyton Manning surpassed, at least on paper, Johnny Unitas as the winningest Colts quarterback of all time. And he did it the same way Johnny Unitas himself would do it. I thought that was only fitting. When you pass the person on the list who did it the right way every time, you should really model your performance off of his. Peyton never got flustered. He didn’t cringe when he saw the rushing yards the Dolphins were racking up against his defense continue to grow. He didn’t yell at anyone. He didn’t slam his helmet to the ground. He didn’t kick the Gatorade cooler over. He just sat there with his teammates and waited for the next opportunity to take his offense out on the field.
But let’s back up. Let’s back up to the first play of the game.
Officially, this is what the play by play says about the first play: P.Manning pass deep middle to D.Clark for 80 yards, TOUCHDOWN. What it doesn’t say is how both Peyton and Dallas grinned from ear to ear like they’d been practicing that since Wednesday and were just then getting to enjoy the fruits of their labor. What it doesn’t say is how shocked the MNF announcers, the fans in the stands, and the Colts radio announcer Bob Lamey all were. What it doesn’t say is that you could practically hear Chad Pennington saying to himself, “HOLY $#%&, where’s my helmet?”.
Now don’t get me wrong, Chad Pennington and his Dolphins offense did absolutely everything right. On any other given day, during any other given game, he would have easily done enough to win the game. The problem was that he was playing Peyton Manning and the ghost of Johnny Unitas.
I’m not gonna lie to you. I was a little concerned as I watched the Dolphins attack my Colts defense on the ground. In fact, I walked away from the game for the entire 3rd quarter because I was so sick of hearing “1st down Dolphins” and the word “wildcat.” But strange as it might sound, I was as calm as calm could be last night all the way leading up to the game and throughout. Normally, I’m wringing my hands, moving around with a lot of nervous energy, and scared out of my ever-lovin’ mind. Maybe I’ve matured. Maybe I’m finally realizing that week 2 doesn’t make the whole season disappear. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally gained the same confidence in Peyton Manning as he has in himself.
Peyton doesn’t feel like he belongs in the same sentence as Johnny Unitas, and maybe, to a degree, that’s true. The game has changed so much since Johnny Unitas played, but what Peyton did last night was a hat tip to the greatest field general of them all, as if to say, “I may be passing Johnny Unitas on the stat sheet, but I’m gonna pass him playing the game the way he played it.” Because, no matter how much the game changes and no matter how much time your team controls the ball, the way Johnny Unitas led his teams will always be the right way to play it: poised, calm, and cool.
Thank you, Johnny Unitas for leading the way.