A Night With Peyton Manning


There are few things like watching a generational talent perform in person.

Growing up 70 miles south of Cleveland, I was fortunate to see LeBron James throughout his seven years in Cleveland. From his rookie season, to his first playoff game, NBA Finals appearance, all the way up until “The Decision”, you could tell you were being treated to something different.

Those are the performances you walk away from almost giddy. You know you’ll tell tales of what you saw that day over something cold at some point, pause and say: “I don’t know how the hell he did that.”

I recently got this opportunity again covering the Broncos’ Week 13 trip to Kansas City. I’d seen Peyton Manning play at Arrowhead Stadium the previous year, but the horror that was the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs made the meeting lose its luster.

The talent was there, but this Chiefs’ season has come as a surprise to everyone. It was generally believed they would be better, but 9-0 better? This success thing must be a 10-year cycle with the town (circa 2003 Royals).

I don’t know when it happened – maybe the Oakland game, where Terrelle Pryor was sacked ten times – but at some point this season, a bristly mid-30s man draped in his Matt Cassel jersey rubbed his eyes, turned to his buddy on the couch and said: “Sonofabitch, we can beat Denver.”

The Broncos were christened the NFL’s preseason darling, and Manning’s Week 1 seven-touchdown performance was pure vindication of that honor. You could hear the groans stretch for miles.

“Good golly god, how are we, a mere non-Denver-based franchise, going to stop this guy?!”

But, as Kansas City continued to string together fourth quarter stands, folks began to look at their Week 11 matchup as the biggest of the NFL season and a possible battle of unbeatens (But we’ll have none of THAT, will we??)

Though the Chiefs managed to reach their bye week unbeaten, things were far from perfect. The biblical sack numbers the defense racked up in the early season had come crashing down to earth, and faith in the offense was basically non-existent.

So, they proceeded to mar Andy Reid’s post bye-week record with a loss in Denver, followed by a little more of a gut-punching defeat to the Chargers at home. Aside from getting their heart ripped out by a guy with more syllables in his name than Dwayne Bowe has touchdowns, Chiefs fans were encouraged by a surprising 38 points put up by Alex Smith and company. It was all the more reason for fans to look forward to another crack at you-know-who.

If you pay attention to football, you know Arrowhead Stadium’s reputation. There’s no way for me to tell you it’s the loudest place in the NFL, other than mentioning it held a world record attempted by a tenth of the league for 47 days.

Every stadium is loud and every fan base loves their team. Yet we always hear Team X assuredly has the greatest fans in the world, and fans of Teams A-W, Y and Z can’t fathom enjoying their sports as much as Team X’s city. Having been in a handful of pro stadiums, here’s all you need to know: Arrowhead is deafening as shit.

Fans on both sides had been packed in two hours before kickoff. I’m standing near a tunnel waiting for the teams to emerge. A schnockered up gal in the front row is screeching a three-digit number in my direction. I realized it’s the number on the sporty standard issue photog vest I’ve been graced with. I keep the blinders on and catch an empty to the back of the head. I look left, then right, then left again. Somehow no security saw it. She’s good.

Denver emerges. Peyton was 8-foot-4. Boo chorus. Kansas City emerges. This was the Chiefs’ last real gasp to win the AFC West. Curtain up. I’m a sucker for pyro.

The Chiefs immediately started moving the ball with a 10-play, 67-yard drive including seven passes from Alex Smith. Unfortunately, that was one more pass than he should’ve thrown on 1st and goal from the two, getting intercepted by Wesley Woodyard in the end zone.

“Yep. Yep, yep. There it is.”

Surprisingly, the Chiefs didn’t just piss away their best opportunity to set the tone, eventually jumping out to a 21-7 lead. The defense picked off Manning twice in the first half while largely shutting down Wes Welker. The place was uncorked, as I’m sure it was in 2003, as Kansas City entered the second half up by a touchdown.

It wasn’t particularly cold, but enough to bother most 37-year-old quarterbacks. The noise level rivaled anything I’d heard from human beings. But generational talents have a way of shutting out the rest of the world, and that’s whom these people were screaming at.

The beautiful terror of Manning’s embarrassment of targets is that any week someone can have the game of their life. This day was Eric Decker’s, who caught three touchdowns in the second half for a grand total of four scores and 174 yards.

The last was a fade to the corner just feet in front of me. I quickly found a fellow photog who’d also been ogling at the veteran’s abuse of rookie Marcus Cooper. You can only smile and shake your head.

Did he really just get him again?

And so Chiefs fans picked up everything except their empty receptacles and trudged home, knowing another 400-yard, five-touchdown performance had ruined their Sunday. The number of Denver fans who stayed put made it sound like a home victory.

Kansas City will make the playoffs and maybe they’ll meet Denver again, but it most likely won’t be at Arrowhead, and that could be their undoing. But fans should appreciate Manning while he’s in the division, because you don’t get to root against a guy like that every week. For all the times the Chiefs defense has made me smile and shake my head this season, you can’t help but give it up for a player who continues to write a familiar script when many think it’s winding down.

Justin Sampson

Justin Sampson

Sports anchor/reporter currently working in Missouri. Ohio University Class of 2011. Overly analytical on most things about myself. Fortunate to love my occupation. I'll rarely turn down a drink with you.
Justin Sampson

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