When I heard the news that Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, my first thought was “I guess I’m a Broncos fan now.” This was immediately followed by an overwhelming feeling of revulsion. I’m not a Broncos fan. I can never be a Broncos fan. Though I am no longer a Chiefs fan as I was in my youth, some of the old prejudices are still there, and I have no desire to change them.
It did get me thinking about what kind of fan I am. I am sure many would all me fickle, as I have changed teams in several sports, some more than once. I don’t think I am, though. I have been a fan of the Missouri Tigers (I don’t want to talk about that) for more than ten years. No matter how many times I get my heart torn out, I always come back. Maybe the shift to the SEC, a move I am not a huge fan of, will change that but I doubt it. Even if I stay away for the next year or two, I’ll be back loving every win and dying with every loss. But as a professional sports fan, I haven’t really had a team I stuck with yet.
Take the NFL. I was a Chiefs fan as a kid, won over by the combination of proximity, I grew up about 75 miles from KC, and the fact that I first became aware of football about the time they signed Joe Montana. Sure, my dad would grouse about how they were using him incorrectly, but he was already a legend. Every Sunday after Church we got to watch Joe Montana play football. Then Montana retired, and I was still a big Chiefs fan. They had Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas, who cared about QB Steve Bono. It wasn’t until years later that I lost faith in Arrowhead. That was the QB controversy between stat machine and choker Elvis Grbac and gutsy winner Rich Gannon. When Gannon played the Chiefs won. That was all that mattered to me. When the Chiefs decided to go with Grbac over Gannon for the future, I was outraged. When Gannon signed with the Raiders, I gleefully rooted for the Raiders. At least for the next 5 or 6 years. Rich Gannon was my favorite player for a long time. When his glory years in Oakland ended, I realized that I was never really a Raiders fan; I was a Rich Gannon fan and a disgruntled Chiefs fan. After Gannon was done with the Raiders, I didn’t really want to go back to being a Chiefs fan. The divorce was final, at least in my 13 year old mind.
So I looked around the league. I still hated most of the Chiefs rivals, the Chargers and Broncos, and was at best indifferent to the Raiders. Outside of that, I hated the New England Patriots for their absolutely fraudulent victory over Oakland in the 2001 playoffs (the tuck rule). The closest thing NE had to a rival was the Indianapolis Colts, a team I already kind of liked since I had lots of family in Indy who were fans. So I started watching Colts games and soon realized I had found my team. I loved Peyton Manning, as well as the rest of the team. For most of the last 10 years I have been a big Colts fan. But this off-season they blew up the entire organization.
Assuming Peyton plays at anywhere near his old level for the next few years, they really cocked it up. Peyton, though probably diminished from his best, is still a top 5 QB. Sure the Colts can draft Andrew Luck with the first pick, but how many sure thing first picks have not turned out as well as expected? Almost all of them. Manning has been a glorious exception. At best I would say the Colts have a 50/50 chance of Luck being a success. And I like Andrew Luck and expect him to be a good player, but I liked Joey Harrington and David Carr. Look at what Washington had to give up to get the 2nd pick and imagine what the Colts could have got for the first pick. They could have rebuilt without losing Manning and since they had Manning would have remained a viable threat in the AFC. Colts owner Jim Irsay said it wasn’t about the money, which everyone knows is complete bullshit. The money is the only reason to get rid of him. With Manning I would have expected the Colts to win at least 10 games, without him I’d be surprised by 6 wins.
Conversely John Elway, as much as I hate old horseface, was kind of brilliant this off-season. Landing Peyton not only got him a hall of famer with presumably several years of life left in him, it also let him extricate himself and his team from the Tim Tebow mess. As I said when he was drafted, I really want to be a fan of Tim Tebow. Last season was magical. But he is not ready to be a full-time NFL starter. He has guts and determination and those intangibles that scouts are always talking about before the draft, but he doesn’t currently have the throwing skills necessary to play the position in the NFL. Not that I do not believe that he can learn those skills. He has the talent and the work ethic. His stats weren’t too much worse than Steve Young’s were early in his career. However, if I was an NFL general manager, I would not want to be putting all my faith in a QB who often can’t make basic throws. Tebow still needs time to develop. Last year he seemingly played on a lark, an attempt by Elway and Coach John Fox to prove he wasn’t ready, only to have it blow up in their faces. The only way Elway could not go forward with Tebow, a player he had no faith in, was to bring in someone whom no one could object to being placed above him. Peyton Manning was Elway’s only hope. Now he’s the Broncos QB and Elway has shipped Tebow to New York to be someone else’s gamble. And the Broncos are better for it.
Back to me, I’m still a Colts fan. It isn’t the organization that I fell in love with, but they are still my team. I am prepared to face years of mediocrity if this Luck gamble doesn’t work out, but I’m sticking with my team. I’m also still a Peyton Manning fan. If he play against the Colts, I’m not sure who I’ll root for. Probably the Colts, because I still hate the Broncos.