Looking back at Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning; from a fan

“I hear applause, all this time I couldn’t see,

How could it be, that the curtain is closing on me?”

You hear it and see it all the time if you’re a sports fan. The older generations reminiscing about their favorite athletes that they grew up watching. Childhoods, nostalgia…the moments when they announced that they were hanging it up, final games, final plays, and where they were when it all went down.You’re hearing all this and for a brief moment you wonder when your favorites of the current era, who are at the peak of their powers, will hang it up but then you brush it off because you know it’s a long ways off. Like when you’re a freshman in high school, graduation seems a long way off but next thing you know you find yourself walking across that stage. On Wednesday, April 13th, 2016, Kobe Bryant played his last game of his twenty year career and showed that life comes full circle as the Utah Jazz were his final opponents; the same team that he shot those four air balls against during the playoffs in his rookie season and he scored the final points of his career in the same manner that he scored his first, at the free throw line. So thus completed the retirement of all three of my favorite athletes that I watched growing up; Oscar De La Hoya, Peyton Manning, and Kobe. I’m only focusing on the latter two in this piece since they both called it quits the same year.

It was easy for me to get into basketball as a kid. I loved playing it and seeing the highlights that Shaq an Kobe were putting up but football was different. I watched kids play the Madden games and found the real life version not nearly as entertaining. This was of course right before the golden age of the passing game when teams still ran the ball and took time outs to slow the game down but when I saw Manning play for the first time… it felt like I was watching somebody play Madden in real life. Seeing him drive the Colts offense down the field and being up 14–0 while still in the first quarter was insane to me and I thought that last name of his looked so fucking cool on the back of his jersey and blue was my favorite color.

Now meanwhile I’m also watching Bryant play with such style, grace, and finesse while being so agile in the air. His footwork was beautiful; to the point where you’d hardly ever see him step out of bounds. Also people forget that he was one of the best in-game dunkers of all time. Just look at these…

And of course when he dunked on guys ten years younger than him

Should also be noted that back before his fingers got all messed up, his release and rotation of the ball when he’d shoot it where beautiful. Even his misses looked better than most peoples makes. Combined with the lift that he’d get when he jumped, it was a thing of beauty to watch.

Now watching Peyton Manning play the quarterback position was a thing of beauty as well. It was like watching a conductor leading an orchestra. Manning played the position like one of those chess nerds; moving his pawns into different formations with a simple wave of a hand or a shout. Most of the other great QBs like Brett Favre, John Elway, and Dan Marino played the position with a backyard football style. They weren’t afraid to get down and dirty but although Manning had a quick release and could get the ball out of there before they got to him, he had an underrated toughness. Like when he suffered this illegal hit that was probably a bounty and kept playing. (I also suspect that this was the hit that would later be the cause of him needing those neck surgeries. Fuck you Redskins)

I began to grow attached to those Colts teams and was saddened when they essentially had a fire sale after they let go of Manning. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne (Best receiver Manning ever had), Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Gary Brackett, and so on. However I’m glad I was able to appreciate and not take for granted his days as a Colt. As a fan of Hip Hop I compare Manning innovating the QB position to how Rakim innovated lyricism; how he introduced different flows, rhythms, and internal rhymes. They changed and caused an evolution; it was a turning point. They became watersheds. And much like Kobe, before the injuries, surgeries, and old age, Manning’s mechanics were impeccable. Seriously just look at these fucking passes!

The timing, accuracy, precision, and placement of the balls…wow. Like Dan Marino always says, “you can’t defend the perfect pass.” Manning and Bryant dealt with similar playoffs criticisms throughout their careers and both experienced success in the second half of their careers. They said Peyton was a choker in the playoffs but he annihilated the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs to get his first batch of playoff wins in 2003 and 2004 but people only chose to remember those loses to New England. He also helped two teams reached the super bowl multiple times and win one with each. He’s the only quarterback to do that. The other team being the Denver Broncos with which he also rewrote the record books with. Kobe Bryant’s criticisms was that he couldn’t win without Shaq and that he was carried to those three championships. While Shaq was the most dominant force and as a Lakers fan I am thankful that his best years were with them, Bryant definitely did more than his fair share. His stats and numbers show that he wasn’t just merely some second option. As a matter of fact I believe his performances against the Sacramento Kings in the second round of the 2001 playoffs are just as impressive as any of Lebron James’ great playoff performances.

Kobe would go on to win back to back championships again with a different squad of Lakers and contrary to some, they weren’t really a stacked team. Pau Gasol was the only big acquisition made. The rest of the team was pretty much the same as those teams from 2006 and 2007 with Andrew Bynum finally coming into his own but when the knee injuries hit is when they brought along Gasol to fill that void in the middle.That trade with the Memphis Grizzlies was essentially highway robbery. How the Lakers were able to pull that off I have no idea. But anyways nobody can really win it all on their own without help. Manning and Bryant both had to carry their teams at certain points in their careers. I’ll always remember how Manning missed most of the 2008 training camp because of knee surgery and barely made it back in time for the season opener. The colts stumbled at the start of the season with a 3–4 record but Manning rallied them to win all nine of their remaining games to finish at 12–4. However both of these guys have also been a part of my top 3 worst moments as a sports fan. The first is Kobe and the Lakers getting blown out by the Boston Celtics in game 6 of the 2008 Finals and seeing him walk off the court as the confetti fell and the Celtics celebrated their championship. The second was when Peyton Manning and the Colts lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl in 2009. That loss hurt way more than seeing him get blown out by the Seahawks in 2013. That pick six just had me sick to my stomach and I remember just turning the TV off and just laying there in my bed in the dark. The other worst moment for me as a sports fan that rounds out my top 3 was seeing Oscar De La Hoya get dismantled by Manny Pacquiao in their 2008 bout.

So looking back both of these legends and icons battled similar demons and essentially limped to the finish line as both of their bodies started breaking down from all the mileage put on their bodies throughout the years. Manning throwing seven touchdown passes against the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 with the Denver Broncos is the equivalent of Bryant’s eighty one point performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. What else did they have in common? They both worked their asses off when it came to preparation and practice. Watching an studying film, working out, going over plays, fine tuning every aspect of their abilities, you name it they did it. Manning pushed the envelope when it came to how much a quarterback should prepare and practice. It’s something that’s had a trickle down influence on QBs today. Both Bryant and Manning have those legendary stories about them putting in long hours and being the first to show up and the last to leave. Kobe did it to a point where his teammates started to dislike him because rather than going out and bonding with them, he’d stay in to watch film, hit the gym, and work on every aspect of his game. While Manning was the innovator, Bryant showed through his preparation and practice that you can become great even when you’re not blessed with unique abilities and genetics. Allen Iverson had speed an quickness, Ray Allen had the jump shot, and Michael Jordan an Lebron James won the genetic lottery. Jordan had the perfect body type to dominate basketball. 6'5 frame with long wingspan, oven mitts for hands, and the body and athleticism of a track star. Meanwhile Lebron was a man-child when he came into the league and is now essentially an NFL runningback that can dunk and pass. Kobe was just some skinny kid coming out of high school but he trained and practiced to mold himself into the icon that he is now. So overall I now understand how the older generations felt when they saw their idols retire or fall off. What the Jordan fans went through when he was with the Wizards or how fans felt when Joe Montana left the Niners for the Chiefs. Manning didn’t finish his career with one team like I wanted him too but I’m glad Bryant did and it really won’t hit me that both of them are gone until around August. And I love that Kobe pissed the media off one last time by stealing the attention of the Warriors winning 73 games and him taking 50 shots to score 60 points was a big FUCK YOU to the stat junkies and new age bloggers who’ve been trying to discredit his achievements by using all sorts of advance stats and formulas these past few years. I also LOVE that his last play of his career was an assist. It should be noted as well that he’s accumulated more assist in his career than all the other players that have scored 30,000 points so far.

This video right here shows you what Kobe Bryant was all about. Go to the 1:25 mark; the Lakers just won the 2010 Western Conference championship by beating the Suns and earning their right for a rematch against the Boston Celtics in the Finals. The Celtics wore their Eastern Conference championship gear when they won their matchup and celebrated but the Lakers weren’t celebrating theirs and still had on their normal gear and looked uninterested in the current victory but focused on the challenge ahead. JUST LOOK AT HOW KOBE IS STANDING IN THE BACKGROUND WITHOUT GIVING A SINGLE FUCK ABOUT WHAT JUST HAPPENED AND HOW HE WALKS AWAY SO NONCHALANTLY AT THE END! This resonated with me so much and I’ll always remember it. They would of course go on to beat the Celtics in seven games.

And as for Manning? I’ll always remember that Sunday night come from behind victory against the New England Patriots in 2009. He has other classic moments against this team but it’s what transpired in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter in this game that just got to me. The Patriots had the lead and were facing fourth down but rather than punt the ball, Bill Belichick decided to go for it. Why? Because he didn’t want to give the ball back to Peyton Manning. This is a guy who as a defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells’ New York Giants, coached against guys like Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, and later on in his career would go on to coach against Brett Favre and Steve Young. New England was unsuccessful in acquiring the first down and with no challenges left to challenge the call, Manning and the Colts took over and he went on to throw the game winning touchdown pass with thirteen seconds remaining. When I heard Belichick say that Manning was the hardest quarterback he’s ever coached against, it was this moment that immediately came to mind. Mannning’s rivalry with the Patriots was always about him going up against Belichick’s defenses and schemes; not Tom Brady and no other quarterback has as many wins against Belichick than Manning.

Greatness. When both the mental and physical aspects of the athlete become in sync with one another, he or she transcend whatever has been deemed the norm for their sport for years prior. I don’t care if this sounds corny, but I’ll do my part to make sure that the legacies of these two icons, the most relentless basketball player that I’ve ever watched, and the greatest football player that I’ve ever watched, never fade and live on by telling my children and grandchildren about them and making sure…that they pass it on as well.