Sports with Shook: Manning vs. Brady vs. Tebow vs. the world

Nick Shook

This was no more apparent than in the final minutes of the game, when Manning attempted another one of his signature fourth-quarter comebacks. But errors on the part of his teammates stymied his almost supernatural influence on the outcome of the game.

It was a sour ending to an early October Sunday affair, in a season that began with such lofty optimism, but was suddenly free-falling toward reality.

And all I could do was sit back and smile.

It’s not that I don’t like Peyton Manning, because I do like him. The man is the best quarterback of my lifetime. I grew up at the end of the Steve Young, Dan Marino-era of the NFL. Manning was drafted first-overall out of Tennessee in 1998, and the league has never been the same since that April day.

If you have followed the NFL at all in the past decade, you know the drill when it comes to Manning. Omaha, Omaha; Louisville soul train; Richmond 96 double. Just snap the damn ball. And once it was snapped, Manning went to work with the precision of a brain surgeon. He was the general to the NFL’s most explosive offense at the time. He single-handedly helped usher in the modern era of passing in professional football. He made the Indianapolis Colts relevant.

All of that changed once Manning suffered a career-threatening neck injury. The Colts suddenly realized that he was indeed a human and not a 6-foot-5, 230-pound robot quarterback with a rocket arm. They immediately shifted their focus to selecting Luck with the first overall pick, which they so graciously earned by getting kicked in the teeth week after week by opposing teams.

Manning was no longer welcome in Indianapolis.

At the same time, another quarterback across the country was coming off a breakout season of Biblical proportions.

That’s right, you got the hint — I’m talking about Tim Tebow.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback ran, passed and prayed his way to an AFC West crown with a 7-4 record as a starter, gaining thousands of supporters along the way in Denver. The Mile High City was stricken with Tebowmania — be a believer, it’s Tebow fever.

A crushing loss in the next round to (who else?) Brady’s Patriots ended the magical season of Tebow, but Broncos fans had high hopes heading into 2012.

That is, until a certain John got in the El-way.

The end of Tebowmania

Although he’ll never admit it, the Denver Broncos’ legendary former quarterback and current team president never liked Tebow from day one. Elway’s style, a traditional pocket passer in his day with the mobility to escape the rush when needed, was a polar opposite of Tebow. The former Florida Gator has an elongated, awkward throwing motion that has been criticized and characterized by many “experts” as unsuitable for a successful NFL quarterback.

But Tebow has proven that he is a winner.

None of this was enough to convince Elway that Tebow was the future in Denver. Elway instead entered the Manning sweepstakes after the Colts cut ties with their former franchise quarterback in the offseason. Manning, 36, signed with Denver for five years and $96 million.

Elway then turned right around and threw Tebow on the trading block faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-meter sprint. Tebow was dealt to the New York Jets, where he would again ignite a media firestorm of unwanted attention, only on a much larger stage.

But much like he always has, Tebow handled it professionally. Questions about his role as a backup swirled around training camp in Cortland, N.Y., and ESPN event sent an entire crew out to Jets camp to chronicle the daily events. It resulted in boring, repetitive programming and way too many still photos of Tebow running shirtless in the rain.

Meanwhile, fervor swept through Broncos camp, as Manning suited up in orange and navy blue for the first time. Hopes were high in Denver. But I remained skeptical.

For one, Manning had plenty of talent around him in Indianapolis. Sure, he made his teammates better. But he had one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, and coupled with a plethora of receivers, which evolved over the years but always remained productive, and offensive coordinator/advisor Tom Moore, Manning was sitting pretty in Indy.

I knew this was not the case in Denver, though. Tebow had to struggle with the receiving talents of Eric Decker and Demariyus Thomas. Those were two of his best receivers. That’s a far cry from Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Who was to say that Manning could suddenly work a miracle and make his flavorless receivers into wine?

Elway took a gamble on an already-fragile quarterback, who was expected to immediately lead the Broncos to a highly successful season. Manning’s debut, a thrilling victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, made Elway look like a genius. But what has happened since then has lessened the expectations of many, and has me patting myself on the back.

You could put Joe Montana back there and he still wouldn’t be able to lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl with that supporting cast. And now, without high-caliber talent, the Broncos have struggled to a 2-3 start.

Meanwhile, Jets fans on the east coast are clamoring for their own taste of Tebow Time. Sure, he hasn’t started a game in green and white yet. But if the Jets get desperate enough — after a 2-3 start of their own, I believe it truly is only a matter of time — they will put Tebow on the field. Tebow will, at bare minimum, put fans in the seats at Metlife Stadium. And let me be another person Tim Tebow will win football games for the New York Jets.

Many of you will immediately read this and scoff, “Tebow can’t throw; he’ll never win with the Jets.”

But with Mark Sanchez struggling mightily – he’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the past four games. His 48.4 completion percentage ranks dead last in the NFL, and he ranks 31st in the league in passer rating.

Tebow chants have already rained down at Metlife Stadium. Some 1,776 miles away in Denver, boos may soon shower Manning and the Broncos. And personally, it would be oh-so-sweet to see the arrogant, toothy smile wiped off Elway’s face when he sees Tebow leading the Jets to victory – much like he once did in Denver.

I can’t wait to see everyone Tebowing in November.