February 08, 2010
Peyton Manning(notes) didn't shake hands with New Orleans Saints players after his Indianapolis Colts lost 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Apparently some think this is a sign of poor sportsmanship from the NFL's greatest player. It's not.
Walking off the field without congratulating Drew Brees(notes) may go against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be, but it wasn't at all disrespectful or bitter. It shows how much Peyton Manning wanted to win the game. And who can argue about that?
LeBron James was caught up in a similar controversy during the NBA playoffs last year and the same thing that was true then is true now: A perfunctory handshake doesn't make someone a good sport. It either makes them indifferent to the game's result or a good actor. What would people have preferred Peyton and LeBron do, laugh off the loss with apathy and treat the victors to dinner after? This isn't Little League.
The only time I question my sports fandom is when the players I'm rooting for seem to care less about the result than I do. I don't want to see my team's quarterback laughing on the sideline while losing a big game. If I care so much, why shouldn't the players?
"It's just a job for these guys," is a familiar refrain. The natural response to that is the great ones make their job their passion. Hall of Fames don't tend to include guys who can't care. The desire to win is what sustains greatness. You think Michael Jordan was hugging Isiah Thomas after losses in the 1980s? Or that Larry Bird stayed on the court to congratulate Kareem? Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio weren't going out for drinks after the Yankees beat the Red Sox. The great ones are competitors and competitors can't flip a switch immediately after a devastating loss and act like it didn't matter.
Being a good sportsman is playing fair, respecting the game and giving credit after to an opponent. Manning did all those things Sunday. In his postgame press conference he said of his quick exit:
"I certainly know how it was three years ago when we won. There's not much consolation for the guys who didn't win. There's the stage being set up and the celebration. It's time for the Saints to celebrate. It's their field."
That's probably a tad disingenuous, but no more than it would have been if Peyton had walked over to congratulate Drew Brees.
For the record, Peyton did call Brees later in the night. Said the Saints quarterback: "Peyton's a class guy." If the man who was supposedly snubbed thinks so, that's enough for me.
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