For the second year in a row, the NFL heads into a Super Bowl investigating one of its most high-profile players.
The NFL continues to gather records and relevant materials pertaining to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The league awaits completion of the Super Bowl to interview the five-time NFL MVP. But by then, the subject of the investigation may conclude the discussion by saying three short words, “I am retired,” and humming a few bars of the Nationwide jingle to ensure he gets into the heads of Roger Goodell’s flunkies failing to get into his.
The investigation stems from charges linking the league’s all-time passing yardage leader with human-growth hormone (HGH). December’s Al Jazeera America documentary, The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping, advances “extraordinary claims that raise questions whether an American sporting hero, Peyton Manning, is linked to performance-enhancing drugs.” The documentary captures a medical professional, who has since disowned his boasts, claiming that he supplied Manning and his wife with HGH “all the time.” The network claims it bought drugs from the man boasting sales to Manning and possesses shipment records of parcels from a controversial clinic to the quarterback’s wife.
“The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and is totally made up,” Manning subsequently told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. “It never happened. Never. I really can’t believe somebody would put something like this on the air. Whoever said this is making stuff up.”
Last season, the NFL obsessed over whether Tom Brady involved himself in a scheme to deflate footballs during the AFC Championship Game. Coverage of the alleged misdeed threatened to overshadow the Super Bowl, which played as perhaps the greatest in the game’s five decade history. Now the league looks into perhaps its most beloved figure on the brink of writing the final chapter of a storybook season that saw him go from an injured backup getting trashed by a foreign broadcast behemoth to a starter on Super Bowl Sunday. Brady exacted his revenge on the league by winning his fourth Super Bowl. His rival now looks to similarly silence his slimers by adding another Lombardi Trophy.
Already, Manning enjoys a victory of sorts over his cable-television tormentors.
Al Jazeera opted to shutter its American experiment by April 30 after Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies filed lawsuits against the network as a result of the program alleging links between them and performance enhancing drugs. Perhaps more than the fact of the lawsuits, a passage within indicates why Al Jazeera America soon signs off for good. Zimmerman and Howard’s suits both charge that the network “chose to publish their defamatory story in an attempt to stir scandal and increase Al Jazeera’s low ratings.”
Manning, battling injuries and old age, may similarly disappear from television sets—as a player but surely not as a pitchman—after the Super Bowl. Low ratings doesn’t explain his departure. The AFC Championship Game scored a larger share of viewers than any penultimate newer-conference contest in 29 years and the highest number of eyes watching save for one other AFC Championship Game. At 39, after 18 long NFL seasons, the man looks ready to say goodbye. He explained to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick following the AFC Championship Game, “Hey, listen, this might be my last rodeo. So, it sure has been a pleasure.”
But it’s been a pain, too. Getting sacked 303 times, undergoing numerous neck surgeries, and enduring splatter from aggressive Al Jazeera muckrakers tends to take the pleasure out of a man playing a boys’ game. It’s safer, and perhaps more lucrative, to cart out really high voice Peyton Manning to chant “cut that meat” and sing “chicken parm you taste so good” while washing down a Papa John’s pizza with a Gatorade paid for with a Mastercard. It’s just not as fun for the rest of us to watch.