The script was waiting to be written.
Three weeks from now, stoked on nothing more than Papa John’s pizza and Gatorade, a triumphant Peyton Manning should lead his Broncos into New England and deliver the kind of thumping that Tom Brady and the Patriots have long deserved in the AFC Championship Game.
From there, the Super Bowl victory to follow would be more of a Manning enshrinement, a league-wide goodbye to the quarterback who displayed what it means to be extraordinarily gifted and still remain an “aw shucks” guy.
That’s not going to happen, not by a long shot.
So much for going out on your own terms.
Peyton Manning deserves better than this.
Hey, in a perfect world, the Colts should sign Manning, get lucky on the 10 or so things that must transpire to make the playoffs, and then launch a historic run to the trophy.
But that’s not going to happen, either.
Instead, Manning appears destined to watch this swan song from the sidelines as a backup. Worse, a chorus of questions about his role in doping will accompany the occasional sideline shot.
This is all so wrong.
And there lies the despicable nature of an overzealous media. Allegations are news, even when the allegations stop far short of actually accusing wrongdoing.
That is the case with Manning.
“The only allegation in the program from Charlie Sly is that growth hormone was sent repeatedly from Guyer (Institute) to Ashley Manning in Florida,’’ said Deborah Davies, the Al Jazeera reporter who turned the words of former reporter Sly into this public indictment. “We’re not making the allegation against Peyton Manning.”
Indeed, it is not even clear who is making any contention at this point. Sly now has retracted his words, leaving no one with direct information standing behind the story. Davies is backing off the tone of her piece, as well.
That does not mean, however, that a discredited story will quietly go away.
Manning told ESPN that the treatments he received were “holistic in nature, but never HGH” as he recovered from multiple neck procedures in 2011 as a member of the Colts. He said the Colts, who called the report “utterly ridiculous” in a statement, authorized all the treatments he received.
“It’s completely fabricated. Complete trash, garbage,” Manning told ESPN. “There are some more adjectives I’d like to be able to use, but it really makes me sick. It makes me sick that it brings Ashley into it. Her medical history, her medical privacy being violated. That makes me sick. I don’t understand that.”
Instead, Manning is left to defend himself and his family against innuendo of the most speculative variety. Let’s be perfectly clear here: No one has alleged — retracted or not — that Manning took HGH or any other performance-enhancing substance. Period.
There is a place in the world for investigative journalism. But the Al Jazeera piece is not that. It is speculation coupled with a theory and devoid of any corroboration. This garbage doesn’t make it out of any respectable newsroom.
Such nonsense is never welcome. It is especially ill-timed here, though, as a clearly aging Manning loses his starting spot for good, and the Broncos roll into the playoffs. Barring injury, Brock Osweiler is the Denver starter.
All of this overshadows a truly remarkable renaissance for the quarterback discarded by the Colts after his significant 2011 neck injury.
“I remember when he first started throwing, I mean, it was a 10-yard lob and you just don’t know,” father Archie Manning recalled in 2013. “And you wonder, ‘Gosh, can he get back where he can throw in an NFL football game.’”
Peyton would come back to throw for 131 touchdowns and nearly 15,000 yards in his first three seasons in Denver. His career appeared to be headed toward a satisfactory close, with or without the second Super Bowl ring, before a coaching replacement and nagging foot injury this season combined to steal his starting role.
“I just think it’s kind of a shame, the other stuff that’s going on with him,” tight end Owen Daniels said after Monday night’s overtime win that locked down a playoff spot. “The guy’s done it right his whole career. We know he’s toward the end of his career now, and you hate to see people try to do stuff to legends like that. I believe in Peyton, 100 percent. I feel for him that he’s got to go through this; but if anyone can handle it, Peyton can.”
Yes, Peyton can. Classy when he was on top, he will stay classy now that the tables are turned. Watching from the sidelines as Osweiler leads his team, fending off doping questions that have no factual basis, trying to be the good teammate.
This appears to be the way Manning’s career will end.
A different script was waiting to be written, one in which Manning musters his magic on and off the field one last time. But that script may never see daylight.
It is all so wrong.