Did Peyton Manning Throw Super Bowl XLIV?
On February 4, three days prior to Super Bowl XLIV, ESPN.com posted a poll asking this question of its readers: Of the 18 quarterbacks who have won just one Super Bowl, which was the best? The unusual part of this poll question? Drew Brees' name was already on that list.
As written on the NBC-partnered Profootballtalk.com on Saturday the 6th, quoting from the ESPN.com poll question: "After completing the best season in New Orleans Saints history, Drew Brees has finally won his first Super Bowl. Brees' lone Super Bowl victory puts him on an eclectic list of starting quarterbacks with one title to their names. From all-time greats like Brett Favre to big personalities like Jim McMahon, 18 men have started and won pro football's biggest game but once in their careers..."
It would be quite easy to dismiss this as a simple mistake on ESPN's part. The poll may have been like the Indianapolis Colts' hats and t-shirts pre-printed prior to Sunday declaring them Super Bowl champions. Perhaps the poll question, maybe written in anticipation of the conclusion of Super Bowl XLIV, was accidentally posted on its website. Perhaps Brees' name wasn't meant to be included. Perhaps some ESPN lackey was having a bit of fun.
All of this may be well and true. Yet as the poll question made the rounds online prior to kickoff, ESPN quickly yanked the offending poll from its website. All links to it (and there were plenty, including profootballtalk.com's and one on cbssports.com) were directed to ESPN's homepage.
ESPN seemed to calm folks down when they later reposted the same poll question, making it seem as a honest mistake. Only ESPN did themselves and the NFL no favors when they re-opened the poll 30 minutes prior to the conclusion of Super Bowl XLIV.
The conspiracy theory had begun: ESPN knew the Saints would win.
Crazy or not, the poll question predicted the future quite accurately (twice). For myself, it's not crazy. I do not believe the NFL is as it claims to be. I believe the league fixes the outcomes of their own games for TV ratings and the billions of dollars of profit attached to them. And I'm not alone.
Super Bowl XLIV may just be a case in point. The ratings were certainly there. Aided by the snowstorm that crippled a huge section of the east coast, Sunday's game was the most watched football game ever, giving the NFL its highest television ratings in its history. In fact, Super Bowl XLIV became the most watched television program in U.S. history.
The NFL's partner on Sunday, CBS, was a big winner as well. The network had already "won" in a sense with the Colts beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game. In this article, former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson explained that Peyton Manning's presence in the Super Bowl guaranteed the network at least 4 million more viewers than the Jets would have brought in, despite them playing in the country's biggest TV market.
CBS raked in $3 million for each 30-second commercial, and its advertising partners were quite happy to see a tightly played game not be determined until well into the fourth quarter. Keeping the fans at home glued to their TV's as long as possible is exactly what CBS and its advertisers hoped for. Much like last year's Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl, their wish seemed to be the NFL's command.
But what about the game itself?
Many pundits, fans, and armchair commentators have dissected the stats and come to their own conclusions. Some point to the surprise on-side kick recovered by the Saints as a turning point which led to New Orleans first-ever title. Some see the Saints outscoring the Colts 31-7 after the first quarter as a sign of their dominance in the game.
Others point to Peyton Manning's fourth quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown as the game-clincher. They say that single throw once again proved Manning "can't win the big one," despite his otherwise impressive stat-line for the game (and his own previously won Super Bowl ring).
It is my opinion that Manning was tapped to lose the game on purpose at the NFL's request.
Prior to the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIV, as CBS showed the players on both teams going through their pregame warm-ups, Peyton Manning looked angry. Some would claim he had his "game face" on, yet to me, that was not a look of determination or concentration but of anger.
After kickoff and as the game progressed, Manning never appeared to be himself. He continued to look as if he had some sort of issue, and not necessarily due to the score. I've seen Manning and the Colts play several times over the years, and the Peyton Manning I saw pre-game and on the sidelines Sunday was not your typical Manning.
Why was he angry? Well, if you were told to take a dive in the Super Bowl, you might not be too jolly yourself.
In the first quarter, Manning and the Colts offense looked their usual self - two drives, two scores and a 10-0 lead. In the second quarter, the Colts only had two more possessions, both of which were three-and-outs.
Once they got the ball back in Manning's hands in the third quarter after the Saints took a 13-10 lead off the on-side kick, Manning once again drove the Colts down the field and re-took the lead. The very next Colts' drive, Manning did more of the same, setting the team up for a long field goal to pad their one-point lead. Matt Stover's 51-yard attempt, however, failed.
The Saints seized upon the opportunity, and after the controversial two-point conversion gave them a 24-17 advantage, some wondered if the NFL had indeed already picked its champion like ESPN seemed to (some fans would also wonder about the referees' preference in the game as well. Outside of kickoffs, not a single offensive holding call was made nor a defensive pass interference penalty assessed on either side despite over 60 pass attempts in the game).
After the ensuing kickoff gave the Colts the ball at their own 30-yard line (a false start penalty quickly pushed them back to the 25), Manning drove the Colts to the Saints' 31-yard line in just six plays. The usual Peyton Manning appeared to be at work.
Then, on third-and-five, Manning made the mistake that gave the Saints the game. The inception - the lone turnover in the game - was not a typical Manning pass. Manning locked on to Reggie Wayne from the snap. He never looked off him.
While Wayne ran his curl-in route, Manning should have easily spotted Tracy Porter sitting inside Wayne. Despite Porter's immediate presence, Manning threw the pass in Wayne's direction. For once, Manning wasn't accurrate. His ball was further inside than Wayne and made for an easy on-the-run catch for Porter which led to the touchdown.
The question is did Manning purposefully throw the pick to give the Saints the win? I believe he very well may have. Watch the video below and pay special attention to the replay beginning at 0:46 from Manning's viewpoint to see where that throw was truly headed.
It is without a doubt the NFL has been pro-New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city. The NFL has been quick to link the rebuilt Saints (which just so happened to become revitalized at the same time the Superdome was in 2006 as the Saints reached the NFC Championship Game) with the rebuilt city. The league wants fans nationwide to believe the city of New Orleans rallies around what were once the 'Aints, and that the team is in fact responsible for the city's "return to glory."
Considering that the NFL and Saints owner Tom Benson only paid somewhere between 10-15% of the Superdome's rebuilding costs, this is pure spin.
Adding to that propaganda, Drew Brees has been deemed New Orleans' conquering hero despite being born in Austin, TX, playing college ball at Purdue, and playing half his career in San Diego. Brees is now apparently as Nawlins as Bourbon Street.
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, has true links to New Orleans. He was born there. And his father Archie was perhaps the Saints best known and loved quarterback until Brees brought home the Lombardi Trophy.
Could Manning have given back to his home city by giving away the game?
After the interception, Manning still led the Colts right back down the field, from the Colts' 14 to the Saints 3 in just five plays. There, with barely a glimmer of hope remaining, Reggie Wayne let a touchdown pass slip through his fingers on fourth down to ensure New Orleans had its first title in 43 years.
Manning then unceremoniously ran off the field without congratulating any of the Saints. He claimed it was because the "field was New Orleans" then, and having learned from his own Super Bowl victory just three years prior, the losers need not get in the way.
Was it truly that, or was Manning too upset to put on a fake smile? Was the seeming anger that began his Sunday the same that consumed him when the final gun sounded?
Manning has had his rewards. He has his multi-million dollar contract, his record four league MVPs, his own Super Bowl ring, and a bust waiting for him in Canton at the Hall of Fame. Will this loss affect his legacy? Not in the least.
And that may be exactly why he'd lose a simple football game. Perhaps he knows how football in the NFL is played. And it's not as the fans believe.