Halftime Sports

The Case for Hanging It Up

November 20, 2015


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Upon seeing the boxscore from the Denver Broncos’ matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, casual football fans who have not been paying much attention to this season would be stunned to see quarterback Peyton Manning’s stats; he went 5 for 20 for 35 yards, zero touchdowns, and four interceptions. This performance, which earned Manning a 0.0 passer rating and the distinction of being the worst statistical game from a quarterback since Chris Redman in 2007, was the nadir in an already disappointing season for Manning, who was yanked for Brock Osweiler in the third quarter.

One of the few athletes whose dominance over the last 15 years has been comparable to Manning’s is Kobe Bryant, who is having a similarly sad season. Though only through 8 games, it is readily apparent that the Kobe who could take over a game at any time is long gone. I could list a litany of statistics which demonstrate how mediocre he has been, including his ghastly 34% field goal percentage or his 0.0 Value Over Replacement Player (indicating there is no statistical difference between Kobe and any average player), but I think Kobe’s struggles are best demonstrated by this NBA Jam tribute video.

Besides both likely bookending their careers with subpar seasons, both of their old-man bodies have been plagued by injuries. At least some of Manning’s struggles against the Chiefs stemmed from an injury in his left foot, which was revealed on Monday to be planter fasciitis, the same injury plaguing my grandmother and her mall-walking, luncheon-attending friends. Kobe is experiencing similar physical limitations, as he had missed three games in the past week because of being so sore he can barely stand up.

I’ve never understood athletes’ impulse to limp to the end of their career instead of going out on top. What more has Kobe proved by playing mediocrely for the past two years for Lakers teams whose terribleness is a surprise to no one? Kobe, better than anyone else, is aware of his physical limitations, so what was he expecting to happen these past 2 seasons?

I am aware that Kobe Bryant, even more so than the average professional athlete, is driven by a borderline psychopathic desire to be the best at everything he does, so calling it quits would be very tough. To me, however, it can’t be tougher than languishing mediocrely when you are trying as hard as you always have, struggling with your withering physicality and, tangentially, your inescapable mortality. (OK, that may be a little dramatic.)

Additionally, ending his career with this poor season ensures that his most vivid and accessible memories, which he will inevitably harp on for the rest of his life, will be memories of his struggles these past 2 seasons. Instead of going through this, why not bite the bullet and retire when it is physically impossible for you to build on your career, knowing that you will have to hang it up eventually?

For Peyton Manning, his struggles this season were not as preordained. Many expected him to build on his successful 2014 season, in which he threw for over 4700 yards and led the Broncos to be AFC West champions. Still, watching him play this season, it’s pretty clear that the arm strength, which has been essential for him throughout his career, is gone and never coming back.

I say that Manning ought to take a page from the coach he could never beat in college and pull a Steve Spurrier, who earlier this year retired from his head coaching gig at South Carolina, effective immediately, after a poor start to the season.  It may sound crazy to think that Manning should up and retire with such a loaded supporting cast around him, but the fact is, even when he is healthy, the Broncos are better with Brock Osweiler. Manning, while not acting as drastically as Spurrier, should announce that he is retiring at the end of the season and stay on as a mentor for Osweiler and a locker room leader.   



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