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Broncos' Peyton Manning's Big Fat MRI

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Michael Wilbon suggested on Monday there might be more to the Peyton Manning story than the Broncos are saying out loud.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

ESPN (DIS) is a lot like Netflix (NFLX).  They’re the best stock you can buy in their industry, but when you think about it, their only real competitive advantage is a handful of licenses and the fact that they’re way, way better than anybody else

ESPN’s franchise player, Pardon the Interruption, had an absolutely marvelous showing yesterday, putting up a 90+ QBR for the third time in as many Monday afternoons.  Not unlike them, the most compelling point of the show was something they never actually said - just hinted at.

Wilbon said doesn’t want to hear the whining about quarterback’s like Peyton Manning taking shots to the legs.  He said that without saying who if anybody has been whining about it recently.  He called the story a “big fat huge deal ” - because that sounds like a “big, fat” something else and because the real story behind the Manning getting an MRI on Monday was not the extent of his injury, not at all.  The real story was the chess-game reasoning behind Manning getting the exam in the first place.

Wilbon never said Manning is looking to get more personal fouls called against him.  But, really, he did.  Like he himself punned, “you can’t get to that point” - meaning both the point where Manning is out for the season, and the point that he is appealing to the refs with a brilliant and paper-thin PR move.

By getting himself checked out, Manning is telling the viewing public as much as he’s telling the league officials: Hey, everybody, look out for my legs on Sundays - I’m old, I’m banged-up and by the way I’m kind of a big deal.

PTI is probably right after the Simpsons and James Joyce when it comes to my biggest influences.  And yesterday’s show helped me realize more than most just why.  Whenever I write, nearly, I’m actually re-writing something I’ve already written. Talking frankly to a recently deceased-past-self, as it were.  That’s why I love PTI - the quality of their conversation is paramount, as they correct and step over one another.  Self-described as a show of two guys yelling at each other - it’s actually really quite thoughtful.  It has a the type of broad and nuanced perspective that belies the fact that it is a daily show.  It’s not just yelling, nor is it just talking.  It’s writing.  Each new story falls into a broader category that the two hosts understand largely without words because they have been yelling at each other about it or something like it for years and years and years.  The two are always both addressing and narrowing-in on the salient points in the ever-moving kaleidoscope that is pro sports.

Tony and Mike have an uncanny ability to hide and flaunt their second conversation.  They can move on from a topic and still talk about - cheekily - for the rest of the show.  Friday the theme for the second half of the show was the future of RG3 and the Redskins.  They framed the story right - offense is looking stellar, team is looking lowly.  Tony said it best when he said of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett - “You can throw him out the window.  You can do that.”   I agree.

Monday Tony and Wilbon went on long pausing on the third topic - Saints/Cowboys - how bout ‘dem Cowboys?!? - because, they understood - without needing to say as much - that the Saints and the Cowboys move the needle and the Rams and the Colt’s don’t.  People like to hear about it when the Cowboys are good and when they’re terrible, like they were on Sunday Night.  All they had for the next block was a blip of Treyvon Austin running across the screen, so they wisely took their sweet time in the transition before going over the Rams freak scoreline over a solid Colts team.

They switched immediately into their fourth block, because they knew it was a real good one.

Peyton Manning announced that he was going to have MRI on his legs, after feeling sore from some late hits in their win over the Chargers in San Diego.

Even though it was the kind of story that most fantasy football owners (myself included) would regard as a pretty tiny orange asterisk, it carries hidden significance in our long term view of the league and the season.  The PTI crew got there and dwelled there perfectly.

Tony asked was the report a big deal, little deal or no deal at all:

Wilbon knew the injury wasn’t serious, and he also knew that it was A Big Fat Huge Deal.  Starting with “big fat” perfectly got across Wilbon’s cynicism about the news story.  But he wasn’t being facetious, he really does think it has big significance.  The South-sider got past talking about the actually injury and talked about the potential “whining” of the league marquee players getting hit.

Wilbon knew Manning getting the MRI was as unnecessary a move as it was prudent, especially with the Broncos next three games against bruising defensive teams.  The MRI was a media stunt to curry favor with league’s executives and get the yellow flag in the same situation next time.  It itself not whining - but it opens the door.

Tony made that point even more clear when he ran through what is at stake: at 37 years old Manning is near the end of his career, he can’t move around at all and he can’t throw the ball down field.  He repeated: Manning is 37 years old, he can’t move around at all and he can’t throw the ball downfield.  With all that said - he is having the best season of his legendary career.

The NFL cannot let him go down this year and everybody knows it. There is far too much money in the pot.  I mean for goodness sake, what if he tore his ACL this year?

Forgive me for saying that, I don’t mean to jynx him - after all, he’s carrying my fantasy football team - “Chicago Fired”.  Just saying - it could happen and if it did happen it probably would happen on a late, low hit like the one he took against the chargers.

(BTW what the heck is up with ACL’s these days?  Has it really been coincidence that it seems like every other major sports star has gotten the itis recently?

Here’s a total list of every NFL player that has torn his acl - it’s 39:

LB Chris Clemens

QB Robert Grifin III

LB Victor Butler (NO)

OL Dan Koppen (DEN)

DE Melvin Ingram (SD)

DE Greg Scruggs (SEA)

CB Aaron Berry (NYJ)

LB Jonas Mouton (SD)

WR Jeremy Maclin (PHI)

WR Armon Binns (MIA)

LB Darius Fleming (SF)

LB Jason Phillips (PHI)

FB Mike Zordich (CAR)

OL Bryan Bulaga (GB)

CB Chris Culliver (SF)

WR Arrelious Benn (PHI)

WR Danario Alexander (SD)

WR Joseph Morgan (NO)

WR Vidal Hazleton (NYJ)

DE Phillip Hunt (PHI)

WR Keolah Pilares (CAR)

WR Kevin Elliott (BUF)

TE Dustin Keller (MIA)

CB Richard Crawford (WAS)

DE Will Smith (NO)

FS Stevie Brown (NYG)

OL Maurkice Pouncey (PIT)

RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (PIT)

OL Garry Williams (CAR)

DT Henry Melton (CHI)

RB Vick Ballard (IND)

DT Nate Collins (CHI)

OL Amini Silatolu (CAR)

QB Brian Hoyer (CLE)

LB Bryan Kehl (WAS)

WR Charles Johnson (CLE)

RB Mike Goodson (NYJ)

LB Desmond Bishop (MIN)

QB Sam Bradford (STL)

WR Reggie Wayne (IN

Sorry did I forget to mention that is the complete list of NFL players with ACL tears…so far in 2013!  There can be no doubt that this injury has gotten much more common.  Funny, I’ve heard that John Elway didn’t have an ACL at all.  It’s exactly thirty years since he was drafted…and now everybody is sitting out because of ACL problems.  What’s going on here? What the hell are they feeding us?!  Wipe my brow I’m worried about the future of sports.  But not really. Just in a campy, my generations sort of way.)

Anyway, I was talking about PTI, right?  11/11/13: it was a great episode.  Wilbon and Kornheiser collectively made the point of why it is stupid and not for obvious reasons to say - as Brandon Meriweather did after coming back from a suspension from a bad hit - that if you can’t hit a quarterback high anymore then you have to him low.  Uh - well, that’s not actually true.  “You can hit him the middle”, says Tony.  How big is the middle?  Wilbon smartly thinks it’s tiniest on the biggest and best Qbs.  He compared it to like a National League umpire calling strikes.

That’s where Peyton’s big, fat smelly MRI comes in.  By getting this MRI on his legs, Peyton is loudly re-establishing his own strike zone.  Everybody already knew how important he is to the league this year.  Now everybody also knows that he’s hurting - and one bad hit could cost the league millions.

The hit itself I think was a bad one.  It came late in a game that was all but over.  It also came late in the play, a half-second after Manning had gotten rid of the football.  It’s a fine line for sure, but referees can make sure defensive players don’t get away with smacking the league’s best QBs in that brief beat before its a blatant late hit and after the pass is out of the player’s hands.  It’s completely subjective.   And football is not like novels - the subject matters.  In this case, the subject - Manning - matters an awful lot the league interest this year.

At the end of the show, Reali informed the guys that after looking into the play the NFL deemed the hit OKAY.  The NFL is so awesome at PR.  Yes, they say, this hit is okay: they let everybody know this is still the brutal collision sport we all love.  That said, I am sure that league has let every referee know that if Manning gets hit the same way next week - it’s not going to fly.

Bravo Peyton.  It’s really a delight to watch you work.  Like Tony and Michael, you are just way smarter than anybody else at your position (well, maybe Brady).  The MRI was just one more of the millions of tiny calculations that make you one of the best QBs of all-time.   And by the way I agree with your unsaid point, you probably should get that kind of hit called a penalty more times than not.

Don’t you think the league should protect him?  I do.  Anyway, the best part of this story is that, as Tony says, Peyton is adaptable.  “He’s better at making compensatory moves than anybody else”.  However the refs are calling the games, Peyton is going to be Peyton.  He’s going to be great.  Getting hit is not beneath him.  He’d just rather not do it.