Requiem for a Quarterback: Peyton Manning is (or Was) a Poet in the Huddle
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (The Sportsman’s Daily Wire Service) As word of Peyton Manning’s slow recovery from neck surgery lead to rumors of his pending retirement, some are beginning to talk about the quarterback’s legacy and meaning to the game. Whether or not he’ll play another down, one thing is abundantly clear: Peyton Manning’s 45 fourth quarter game winning drives is the stuff of legend. The Unitases, the Montanas, the Ellways…all were legendary for maintaining cool heads in nervous huddles, leading lesser men to improbable victory. Peyton Manning has joined the pantheon of all-time clutch performers, as he is clearly made of similar stuff…but with a previously unknown wrinkle: poetry, specifically canonical English and American poetry, from Shakespeare to Keats, T.S. Elliot to Wallace Stevens.
“In his third season, we were down by six to the Chargers with just over two minutes remaining,” said Colts’ offensive tackle Ryan Diem. “We take the field and ten seconds pass, which at that point in the game is an eternity. Peyton is on one knee, thinking, we hear him mumbling, slowly, he rises to his feet, he takes off his helmut and strikes a pose, his chin jutting, his eyes gazing skyward…’We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.’ So on and so forth. We were standing there, tears in our eyes. Next thing we know we’re putting it in the end zone, kick the extra point, game over.”
Manning’s inspiring recitation of Shakespeare’s soaring “St. Crispin” speech from Henry V was the first of many times Manning versified the Colts to victory. Over the years, Manning varied the playbook. For a while he stayed on the straight and narrow, using sturdy iambic meter and thumping heroic couplets. Occasionally he’d stick with the works of a particular favorite – for months he’d dip into the unflinching verse of Kipling, then unexpectedly veer into snatches of Whitman. Some poets and some poems worked better than others. Poe turned out to be a big mistake, though he rebounded several weeks later with some of Ezra Pound’s late cantos, which had a settling effect.
“You never knew what Peyton had up his sleeve on a given Sunday. One game it’s a standard meter, the next it’s some original stuff with a tricky rhyme scheme,” said Diem. “Far be it for me to question a winning formula, but I would prefer he stick with established work that’s stood the test of time. The last thing you want is for millions of people watching you, you’re down three with under two minutes to go and your quarterback embarrasses you with some hack drivel that doesn’t scan.”
In a touching gesture, Diem and his teammates sent the poetry-spewing quarterback a manuscript of original poems penned by several players and coaches, hoping to lift his spirits during this difficult period. “Not exactly Kenyon Review material, but there are inspired passages here and there. A couple of our offensive lineman turned in some quality work. Just because you’re 350 pounds of controlled rage doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the site of a sparrow alighting upon a window pane, you know?”
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