The best line about the fourth quarter of last night’s Super Bowl XLIV victory for the New Orleans Saints was ESPN reporter Jorge Arangure’s: “Hey I’m sure when Peyton Manning was growing up he always wanted to throw the TD pass that gave the Saints a Super Bowl win. Now he has.” (Fittingly, in this odd new world, he provides this great quote not to ESPN, the network that pays him a full-time salary, but to Twitter, a third-party website for which he provides free, regularly updated content.) It was shocking to see Manning, whose genius this year has mostly seemed bionic, make such a dunderheaded, critical mistake.
As many have pointed out, the Manning interception was on his favorite play to call, which of course is always when it happens. History comes from crazy plays in which the ball sticks to someone’s helmet; history does not come from conventional, traditional, safe short-out routes. The comparison of Manning’s stoic ploddedness to Drew Brees’s supposed Wild West gutsiness is an unfair one: Brees is as accurate a quarterback as you’ll find on Earth, rather than than some, oh, gunslinger, and the ways he and Manning play aren’t all that different.
Ultimately, it comes down to one individual read, and one individual play, luck, flukes — whatever you want to call it. Peyton Manning throws a tight, easy, simple play and ends up watching his hopes at a second Super Bowl title sprint away from him as Miami shrieks. Eli Manning heaves a random ball in the air, entirely unaware of its final landing point, and it turns out to be one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.
It tells you little about either player, about either brother. It certainly doesn’t change the fact that Peyton is a dramatically superior player. It just means that this thin wisp we hang entire careers on, this Comes Through in the Clutch, is entirely a collective figment of fabulism. It means nothing, and comes from nowhere. Not that it’ll help Peyton, when he’s screaming into his pillow every night until August. For now, Eli and Peyton are tied for the most championships as Manning brothers, and Eli has even won his more recently. Regardless of how skilled you are, regardless of how hard you work and train and study, strange things happen, when the ball isn’t round.