Kneeling on verge of record, Manning stands tall


IN A CITY that lost star forward Ron Artest for an entire season and two other Pacers to long-term suspensions after the biggest, most embarrassing player/fan brawl in the history of the NBA, there were boos for Peyton Manning.

Talk about something lost in translation.

You can understand fans wanting to witness NFL history, but not when disappointment trumps appreciation for a classy act of sportsmanship.

They love their football so much in Indianapolis, the city will spend $800 million for a new NFL stadium. Maybe that explains the catcalls and misery showered upon Manning Sunday night at the RCA Dome.

Manning could have tied a 20-year-old NFL record. He could have put himself one touchdown closer to the kind of football immortality he unabashedly seeks.

He could have made the Colts fans happy, not to mention the visiting national media there to see him break Dan Marino's season touchdown passing record and the Las Vegas oddsmakers who concocted all kinds of bets on when, to whom and how long the record-setting TD would be.

Instead, he killed the clock.

In this holiday season of love and joy and giving, we bring you the Colts quarterback who, back on Nov. 14, was accused of running up the score on the Houston Texans. Consider this another lesson learned by Manning, whose pedigree, competitive fire and study habits urge him to succeed at every turn.

All that drive and desire does not mean, apparently, an absence of restraint, of willingness to do the right thing.

Manning was not exactly amused at the response of Colts fans, particularly after seven consecutive wins and a playoff berth wrapped up. The fans, he noted, will get a chance to be part of history next week against the Chargers.

But patience is not a virtue, even in a league where, unlike college football, there are no BCS wonks to impress by running up the score.

Considering the craven, self-indulgent, me-first landscape of sports these days, you wonder how many people in the stands or wearing other uniforms comprehend the magic of this kind of athletic and competitive restraint.

What's in a record, anyway, if it's achieved for the sole reason of notching the mark, devoid of context within an individual or team's pursuit of victory or a championship?

In 1998, UConn senior Nykesha Sales was inserted into a game to score an uncontested layup for the sole purpose of giving her the school's all-time scoring record. Coach Geno Auriemma knew that had Sales not been forced out due to injury, she would have achieved the mark. He wanted her to get it, not accounting for the backlash from those who viewed the record as diminished, if not tainted.

There was nothing remotely honorable about the case of former Cleveland Cavalier Ricky Davis. In the closing seconds of a game against the Jazz, Davis intentionally shot at the wrong basket and missed to gather the rebound he needed for a triple double.

"He was trying to embarrass us, and that's not how the game should be played," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said at that time.

Fortunately, Davis was tackled for an intentional foul.

There was no such tackling on New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who waltzed in unscathed to notch the NFL season record for sacks in January 2002 when Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre appeared to take a dive.

Strahan holds the sack record, but the mark is slightly less lustrous, considering the way it was achieved.

That's the landscape against which Manning and the Colts can uphold this hyped run at Marino's touchdown record.

By taking a knee not once but twice in the final seconds of Sunday night's 20-10 win over the Ravens, the Colts quarterback did what too few high-profile athletes are willing these days to do.

He glorified the ideal of sportsmanship by "playing the right way" more than any record-setting mark ever could.

Bravo, Manning.

And, by extension, kudos to the Ravens.

Ed Reed and Ray Lewis led a defense that was the perfect, high-energy counterpoint to ever-active Manning and the Colts. Their showdown made for a captivating prime-time drama; a chess match engaged in at the line of scrimmage that turned out to be some of the most exciting football theater seen in a long time.

There was Manning, stalking the backfield as he assessed field position. He lined up under center, backed away, pointed and motioned to his line and receivers to reorganize. He adjusted once, twice, sometimes three times to what he saw in the Ravens' formations.

Those weren't a few audibles Manning called. That was an offense as fluid and reactive as if it was playing basketball, not football. It was such a furious game of check and checkmate, even Ravens fans lamenting a lack of an offense could appreciate the game within the game.

By taking a knee, Manning was giving a gracious nod to the Ravens' defense, which deserves better than wondering if the playoffs are possible. The Ravens' defense held the Colts' offense to six first-half points and it gave Manning a run for his $98 million.

Kneeling wasn't anti-climactic. It was right.

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