If a media orgy was going to inflate someone's value well past the point of logic and waterboard us all with non-news round-the-clock for a solid six weeks, it's only appropriate that it all comes back to Tim Tebow somehow. So yes, Peyton Manning on the Denver Broncos is pretty perfect. For so many reasons.
It's perfect because Peyton never should have gone to San Francisco. Assuming he recovers from his neck injury and comes anywhere close to the player he was in 2010, Manning (and Randy Moss) would've made the Niners instant Super Bowl contenders. But that's not how these things are supposed to work. Joe Montana on the Chiefs, Emmitt Smith on the Cardinals, even going back to Johnny Unitas on the Chargers. Once NFL superstars go over the hill and sign on for one last shot, it's supposed to be jarring and depressing. Probably part of some broader, cosmic lesson about the superstar's relationship to the sport he plays. Manning in San Fran would've been too good, and way too exciting. But Manning in Denver?
Exactly the sort of Jordan-on-the-Wizards dynamic we've been expecting all along.
It's perfect because Tim Tebow had this coming for MONTHS. One of the great joys of watching the Tebow phenomenon inflate with each passing week this season was knowing that this is the NFL, where sentiment and hype is worthless. All the Skip Bayless soliloquies in the world wouldn't fool NFL GMs into thinking Tebow's anything more than a gimmick quarterback who plays well in the final minutes of crunch time. Not a bad quarterback, really, but also not "Barack Obama could learn a thing or two from him" good. Now, Tebow hits the trading block, and will any team actually want him? Will he go for more than a fourth-round pick? Just how valuable is the Best Story In Sports™? For anyone who had the temerity to question Tebow this season, the next few weeks should be fun.
It's perfect because as Bomani Jones pointed out to me last week, Peyton Manning is basically the polar opposite of Tim Tebow. Peyton's the guy with all the pedigree of a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, all the physical tools to dominate in the NFL, impeccable stats and a secretly shaky history in crunch time. Tebow's got less pedigree as a conventional QB, may not have the tools to survive the NFL, has horrible stats relative to even decent QBs and yet he's still got those strangely dominant crunch time performances. Between the two ends of the spectrum, Denver's choice is clear here.
It's perfect because the fans in Denver deserve this. They rioted until Denver gave Tebow a chance, and created a situation where signing Manning was John Elway's only escape route. Bringing in Peyton was the only way the Broncos could move Tebow down the depth chart without fans burning down the stadium. Peyton's a huge risk that could backfire either instantly or eventually, but at this point it doesn't matter. The idea of Peyton Manning is enough to placate the Tebow cult into believing the Broncos had no other choice but to move on. So now instead of Tebow -- the most over-hyped deity since Favre -- the fans in Denver get maybe-almost healthy Peyton Manning for insane amounts of money, and suddenly their franchise belongs to Brett Favre Part Two.
Most of all, it's perfect because while nobody was looking this past weekend, Matt Flynn went to Seattle for a three-year deal with no more than $10 million guaranteed. So, while the entire NFL world tracked Peyton's every mood change and gave him the full-on Favre treatment without ever finding out if he's got feeling back in arm yet, the best young quarterback on the market signed a reasonable deal with an up-and-coming team in a city far away from all the madness.
It's important to separate Peyton Manning the Hall-of-Famer from Peyton Manning the free agent who was on the brink of retirement as recently as three weeks ago. We have no idea how good he'll be, but it's hard to believe he'll be as the player Denver thinks is worth all that money.
Beyond all the SportsCenter reports and grainy videotapes from Duke's practice field, Peyton Manning's basically an idea at this point. An idea that's been sold by his agent, ESPN and its round-the-clock updates on his every move, and now Denver and John Elway, selling this to Broncos fans as a step toward becoming real, live Super Bowl contenders.
Tebow is an idea, too, but what he means has become so much bigger than what he actually is that the Broncos had no choice but to do something drastic to take back control.
The meaning of either idea is relative. Tebow was never as important to Denver's front office as he was to ESPN and Denver's fans, and it's hard to believe Manning will ever be as important to the Broncos' success as his free agency world tour suggests he's supposed to be.
So, looking at this from afar: The Broncos appointed John Elway as the man to bring them back to glory. He inherited Tebowmania, and as Tebow took control, bringing Peyton Manning to Denver was really the only way he could take the franchise back. Now it's Peyton who has control of the Broncos, but maybe not his throwing arm. If all this becomes a cautionary tale about NFL teams worshiping false idols, and it all centers on the NFL's two biggest media icons... Wouldn't that just be perfect?