Peyton Manning: A Move With No Middle Ground

Categories: Sports
The intriguing news that San Francisco may indeed be Peyton's Place is that rarest of things -- a true all-or-nothing gamble. 

There is no in-between when it comes to signing -- or perhaps even chasing -- Peyton Manning. Either the 49ers will contend for a title or the aging, brittle Manning will disappoint. It's hard to imagine a pretty good scenario. It's all great or terrible. 

Inking Manning is a move with more ifs than the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling. To wit: 

  • If Manning can overcome the uncertain fate of multiple neck surgeries; 

  • If Manning can overcome the uncertain fate of being 36; 

  • If Manning can thrive away from the only offensive system he's ever played as a pro; 

  • If Manning can succeed despite being surrounded by mediocre-at-best receivers; 

  • If Manning can avoid being booked into jail after going out to the 4 p.m. early bird special with fellow grizzled veteran Randy Moss and having one glass of blush too many; 

Then perhaps he'll succeed. 

Alex Smith vitamin water.jpg
This was the best endorsement Alex Smith could get for a while...
​But what about the risks the team would be taking? Landing Manning would require paying out a king's ransom and possibly making a multi-year commitment to a surgically repaired veteran with very clear memories of the Gerald Ford administration. The team would be one blindside hit or late thirtysomething's nerve tweak away from handing the keys to Colin Kaepernick years ahead of schedule. And, perhaps most seriously of all, by even bothering to pick up Manning's handkerchief the team may have done serious damage to its relationship with current quarterback Alex Smith.  

Smith, at times, seems less a football player than a reclamation project. He is the corporeal embodiment of the shattered Mustang so many men keep in the driveway. Smith's saga has matched his team's -- but, following last season, it seemed both were headed for better times. After six middling-to-awful years, Smith finally enjoyed the benefit of a coach whose head wasn't filled with Wheatena. As much as the Championship Game was within the Niners' grasp, Smith did what coach Jim Harbaugh asked of him this season. He made hardly any mistakes, played steadily, and kept the team in a position to win. 

Harbaugh has, repeatedly, anointed Smith the once and future QB for this team. The reports that he and offensive coordinator Greg Roman took in a Manning training session -- and followed it up by sending a team doctor to poke and prod the aging messiah -- can't sit well with Smith. 

Joe Namath Rams.jpg
Joe Namath on the Rams -- the 49ers' absolutely worst nightmare scenario that doesn't involve a meteor or Star Jones
​The relationship between Smith and the 49ers has come to resemble a marriage. They've been in it for the long haul, for better or for worse (mostly worse), and have worked through their difficulties. They've even had trial separations while the team courted cads like Shaun Hill or Troy Smith.

Should this relationship come to an end it could even be assessed in terms befitting a marriage -- there was such early promise, it soured, things improved, and, hey, we've always got New Orleans

If Manning comes into the fold, this analogy ends. He'll be paid a metric shitload to accomplish one specific task -- do his part to put this team back in the Super Bowl. Considering the investment, sacrifices, and timeline of Manning's career, there is only boom or bust. 

For 49ers fans of old, the notion of a Super Bowl trophy or failure is not unfamiliar. To do it this way -- that's unfamiliar. 

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It definitely seems like the Niners and Smith completed a successful course of marriage counseling, only to have the team catcall some bimbo in the therapist's parking lot.

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