For the eighth time in eight years, I woke up on the day of the Colts’ kick-off, pulled my Peyton Manning jersey out of my closet, and got ready to watch the game.
This tradition, started my junior year of high school, is my greatest sports superstition. Days where formal wear has been required for school related events the jersey has simply gone over my button-up shirt or jacket. The Peyton Manning jersey has all but become my signature piece.
Why not? The Colts have boasted an impressive record over the past eight years. And have never been anything but fun to watch. Manning has directed the team to numerous play-off appearances, two superbowls, and one superbowl victory.
Peyton Manning has been nothing but consistent.
And fans, like myself, have taken Peyton’s consistency for granted. Playoff appearances have been all but guaranteed. But perhaps what has been taken most for granted, was that Peyton would be there.
For the first time in 14 years, for the first time since I started wearing my jersey, for the first time in 227 starts, Peyton wasn’t there.
I had held out hope until the announcement that Manning’s neck injury was too severe for him to play was made early last week. Despite the knowledge that it was likely Peyton would miss his first Sunday in 14 years, it couldn’t resonate with me until the official announcement (and even that took time).
So on Sunday, for the eighth time in eight years, I woke up and put my Peyton Manning jersey on. But for the first time in that same period, Peyton didn’t.
Watching the Colts under veteran-replacement Kerry Collins’ lead was painful. Not only because of his two fumbles in the first half, but because it wasn’t the same as watching Peyton. Seeing the Colts get stomped on by the Texans, despite Arian Foster’s absence as well was painful as well.
But, the good news is, I survived my first Sunday without Peyton. And the Colts’, though bruised and defeated survived theirs as well. As with every new football season there is still hope, because anything can happen. There is still hope for the playoffs, hope for young players like Austin Collie to fully develop, and mostly, hope that Peyton will come back healthier and stronger than ever.
And I think all Colts’ fans have learned a valuable lesson: never take even the most consistent person for granted.
Many have discussed the marketability of
Peyton Manning. BusinessWeek’s Joel Stonington describes power in sport as “the
combination of athletic achievement plus the ability to connect with an
audience on a deeper, more personal level that separates mere jocks from the
stars” (Stonington, Power 100 2011). In addition to being an elite level
quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, a perennial record setter, and a
SuperBowl winner he is also ranked number one on BusinessWeek’s 2011 Power 100
in large part because of his ability to market himself, as well as many other
businesses. As most any sports fan (and even many non-sports fans) can tell
you, Peyton Manning is in the business of appealing to fans both on an off the
field as he has starred in commercials ranging from Sprint to Mastercard to
Reebok. But, there seems to be another face, or beard, on the sports marketing
horizon- Brian Wilson.
Could Peyton’s stance as America’s
Sweetheart, and the most powerful man in sport (at the very least the most
likeable), be in jeopardy to a closer from the Bay Area? Possibly.
Labor negotiations in the NFL have left
fans frazzled, and if there is one thing the owners and players seem to have
missed in their sports history lessons, it is that fans are not quick to forget
labor disputes. Baseball players, for example, have gone on strike a total of
eight times. World War II couldn’t
stop the game because of Roosevelt’s Green Light Letter, encouraging
commissioner Kenesaw Landis to
keep the game going, but greed certainly could. The most egregious of the
strikes came at the end of the 1994 season – the only year in Major League
Baseball history where no World Series was played.
In 1993, the year before the strike,
Major League Baseball set an attendance record of 70,257,938 fans, with an
average of 30,984 fans per game (http://bss.sfsu.edu/tygiel/hist490/mlbattendance.htm).
In the strike shortened 1994 season only 50,010,016 total fans attended games,
with 31,256 fans per game. With more fans attending games in 1994 the league
stood to break the previous year’s record. A shortened season in 1995 yielded
more fans than the previous year, but lower per game attendance (50,469,236
total fans, 25,022 fans per game). The 1996 and 1997 seasons showed
improvements of about 1,500 fans per game per year (26,510/27,877 respectively), but
neither was on par with the pre-strike rates.
It was not until the Home Run race of
1998 that fan attendance reached (and slightly exceeded) the pre-strike totals
(even then attendance per game was down). The data indicates that it took three seasons for fans to come back to
Major League Baseball – in other words, for baseball to recover from the
strike. Admittedly, there are likely other factors for fan’s demotivation to
attend baseball events, but the strike
is the most obvious correlation.
Three years, and a home run
record-setting season is a lot to ask for the public to fall back in love
with its national pastime. While
fans were not attending baseball games, they were spending their discretionary
income elsewhere – meaning there was an opening for other sports to gain
prominence while baseball was not viewed as favorably.
With the impending football lockout, and
NFL attendance dropping for the third straight year in 2010 (to its lowest
level since 1998, the year baseball saw its upswing), it seems just the time
for baseball to take advantage of what was once rightfully theirs – America’s
adoration. Despite football fans‘
disinclination for attending live events in recent years, ESPN noted that
17,007,172 total fans attended in 2010. According to USA Today the average
ticket cost at an NFL game is $75.00 per seat, totaling over 1.2 billion
dollars in discretionary fan income in ticket sales alone.
With that much discretionary income, and
a history of fan dissatisfaction after a strike season, baseball was ready to make its move- insert
Manning is the poster child for on and
off-field performance, as discussed above, but he is also lead plaintiff in a
lawsuit that embodies the greed of the lockout. As much as Manning has enamored
fans in the past, many are wondering why he and the rest of the league can’t
come to terms with the owners when they are making so much money every year
(Manning’s 2010 income was estimated by BusinessWeek at 30 million dollars).
The majority of Americans cannot fathom making 30 million dollars in their
lifetime, let alone in one year. Manning’s on the field prowess and off the
field humor cannot mask his- and the rest of the league’s- perceived greed.
Brian Wilson made his debut in 2006 with
the Giants and has been with the club for his entire career- much like Manning
has been with the Colts. He is a two-time All Star selection (2008 & 2010)
and led the league in saves last
season with 48 while pitching in 70 games. In addition to having impressive
individual statistics with a career 290 strike outs and 139 career saves (as of
April 24, 2011), he helped the Giants win their first World Series since 1954
by allowing no earned runs in 11.2 postseason innings.
However, on the field reliability is not the only thing that what wins over American sports fans. Wilson is
incredible in his ability to make
fans laugh through his commercials, which include video games (MLB 2k11), SportsCenter
(again like Manning), and ESPN Opening Day. Moreover, there doesn’t appear to
be an end in sight, eliciting spoof websites such as the sportspickle.com to
write an article entitled “Brian Wilson’s Beard Apparently MLB’s Entire 2011
Marketing Campaign”. In addition
to commercial’s Wilson is incredibly personable, intelligent, and eloquent in
his interviews on film and in text. And the man has a heart of gold as evidenced
by a YouTube clip of Wilson and fellow teammate Cody Ross, staring internet
sensation Keenan Cahill, all lip syncing to Taio Cruz’ popular “Dynamite” to
raise money for charity.
If Wilson’s ability to market himself, or
have someone else extremely intelligent do it for him, hasn’t been evident to
this point, just look at his beard. The 2010 “fear the beard” campaign was
wildly successful, as Wilson’s beard “Weez” took center stage during the
playoffs. The beard has inspired clever sayings, cakes, fan beards, and a wide
array of t-shirts from online retailers and Nike.
Fans are so awe struck by Wilson (and
Weez’) presence they have started an online campaign for Wilson to host
Saturday Night Live. As of April 20, 2011 the page has 45,882 likes. Similarly,
Manning hosted Saturday Night Live on his 31st birthday just after his SuperBowl win in 2007.
While Wilson is not as clean cut as
Manning (in addition to The Beard there are also tattoos) that doesn’t seem
particularly relevant to fans. The American public has shown that Brian Wilson
can be their new hero, and the NFL lockout seems to be affording him the
perfect opportunity to embrace that role. It is likely that a man entirely left
off BusinessWeek’s 2011 Power Rankings could top the 2012 edition.
Fear the Beard, Peyton.