Peyton Manning doesn’t ‘duck’ Richard Sherman
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist January 30, 2014 10:29PM
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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:16PM
NEW YORK — I guess we were waiting for this, huh?
Finally, chatterbox Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said something that can go on the Broncos’ wall.
To wit: Peyton Manning throws ‘‘ducks.’’
A duck, in football parlance, is the opposite of a laser beam.
A duck flutters, wobbles, moves slowly and is butt-ugly in flight. Bad quarterbacks throw ducks.
Honk, honk! Game on!
Remember, Sherman didn’t say this about wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a guy he’d just sent off to obscurity after the NFC Championship Game. He said it about the revered, back-from-injury, 37-year-old quarterback who is in the hunt to be the best statistical passer of all time.
Manning’s stats take up 13 pages in the Broncos’ media guide. One page of very small type is dedicated to listing Manning’s game-winning fourth-quarter or overtime drives.
The man is first in NFL history in games with 300 or more yards passing (85) and three or more touchdown passes (84) and in seasons with at least 4,000 yards passing (13) and 25 or more touchdown passes (15).
Serious neck problems and subsequent surgeries (four) almost ended his career two years ago. But all the injury really did was lead to one more honor for the man who’s No. 1 in Pro Bowl selections (13): the 2012 Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Maybe the battered guy might have been expected to tail off in 2013, from advanced age, disinterest, etc. Right. How does an insane NFL record of 5,477 yards and 55 TD passes sound?
Obviously, Manning would go a little ballistic when we press folks told him of Sherman’s criticism. Or at least he’d do that cold and clichéd, inauthentic NFL I-don’t-listen-to-what-anyone-says thing, while quietly fuming from the ears.
What did Manning do?
He smiled calmly there at the rostrum and said, ‘‘I believe it to be true.’’
This was followed by wild hyena laughter on the media’s part. There might have been coffee spewed and gum spat. But Manning wasn’t done.
‘‘They say he’s a smart player, and I think that’s a real reach, what he’s saying there,’’ Manning said, not wanting to go full slapstick at the moment. But then he continued: ‘‘I do throw ‘ducks.’ I’ve thrown a lot of yards and touchdown ducks. I am actually quite proud of it.’’
He was talking easily, smiling, light-hearted. The thrown gauntlet had been picked up, gently returned. The saber hadn’t even rattled, publicly.
This was masterful work. Let’s break it down.
‘‘They say Sherman is a smart player.’’ This was not Manning himself saying it. He could have said, ‘‘Sherman is a smart player.’’ He didn’t. Others could. Behind the self-deprecation, Manning was leaving the subtle hint: Sherman might be an idiot.
He readily acknowledged throwing ugly passes, true or not. Those 65,000 passing yards likely didn’t all flap like mallards, but if Sherman wants to think so, fine. The cornerback’s name, number, bio and flaws have been filed in Manning’s computerized memory hole the way the NSA files phone logs. The info will not be forgotten.
Manning is too mature, too unflappable to let kindergarten-style taunting alter his good-guy persona. But those fourth-quarter comebacks didn’t occur because he’s gentle and sweet. A critical pass over Sherman’s outstretched hand — maybe six inches higher than Colin Kaepernick’s ill-fated last pass — might be as joyful to Manning as a dirk in the DB’s neck. Of course, he’ll never let us know that.
The man who waxes on thoughtfully and graciously about every issue lobbed his way — from backup tackle Chris Clark’s fill-in role to cornerback Champ Bailey’s first Super Bowl to what it was like having Archie Manning for a dad to life lessons learned from surgery — knows everything about his foes.
Nobody but the late Roger Ebert watched more film than Manning.
And here’s the thing. Manning actually knows that his passes do not look like the bullets they were in his 20s. For a while after the neck surgery, nerve damage kept him from getting much of a grip on the ball. For a while, he feared he was done. Even now his fingers do not have the same feel they did pre-injury.
And so, like all driven geniuses, he has changed and compensated. Study, throw, study, repeat. A duck that alights accurately in a receiver’s palms is no different from a falcon that burrows into them.
‘‘I don’t have a list,’’ Manning said when asked who the best three quarterbacks of all time are. But he said he could describe the ‘‘perfect quarterback,’’ taking pieces from many:
‘‘Take John Elway’s arm, Dan Marino’s release, maybe Troy Aikman’s dropback, Brett Favre’s scrambling ability, Joe Montana’s two-minute poise and — naturally — my speed.’’
Riotous media laughter! Manning has run for minus-four yards the last six years and is slower than tar.
Yet his mind — you may find out to your chagrin, young Sherman — is fast as light.