|Manning lies on the turf after a vicious hit during a game against the Redskins in 2006. (Getty Images)|
My god, are you barbaric. Not all of you, no. Let's make that clear up front: I'll be painting with a broad brush today, but not an all-encompassing brush. If what I'm about to write about the barbarism of NFL fans does not apply to you, then don't be offended --because I'm not talking to you.
If this stuff does apply to you? Be offended. Because I'm talking to you, maybe even talking down to you, because on this position I feel the wind beneath my wings and then some -- I feel that blessed feeling of moral high ground beneath my feet.
Because you're barbarians. Some of you, probably even lots of you, as the events of the past week have shown. And by "shown," I don't mean "suggested." I mean shown, as in shown beyond a shadow of a doubt.
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First it was the bounty news out of New Orleans, which was met with high-pitched screaming from lots of us, but with sneering dismissal from lots of you. This was your chance to show the world how tough you are, whether your world is on Twitter or Facebook or the message boards below my own attempt at high-pitched screaming. And you showed it. You showed us all by sneering, "It's football," as if you're Dan Hawkins and it ain't intramurals, brother.
Technically, true. But missing the point, which the barbarians among us are more than happy to miss. They've taken to the Internet to concede that, yes, bounties are illegal -- but they happen everywhere, and they've been happening for decades, so it doesn't really matter. My counter argument: So does bank robbery. So does driving while drunk. You just want to let those folks go, too? Just because it happens everywhere?
Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton doesn't want to let it go, but maybe he didn't get the memo -- as he was throwing for 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns and reaching nine Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls -- that it's just football. Apparently Tarkenton isn't nearly as big a man as Bill Romanowski -- who spit on an opponent, punched out a teammate and never met a syringe he couldn't shove into his butt. Romanowski says too much has been made of the bounty story, that it's not that big a deal.
Bill Romanowski is a meathead. Do you agree with Bill Romanowski's take on the bounty story? Well, you know what the transitive property of math says. It says that if A = B, and if B = C, welp, sorry: C is a meathead.
As for Peyton Manning, this goes beyond obtuse meatheadery and into something scarier. I've enjoyed watching him play for years, have attended many of his games and spent time afterward next to his locker, but I have no desire to watch him play football again. Just like I have no desire to watch a 9-year-old chase a football into a busy street.
If he plays this season, that's how I'll watch Manning: With one hand over my eyes, my fingers splayed so I can watch even though I don't want to watch, hoping the next collision isn't the one that requires an ambulance. Maybe Manning's neck is stronger than ever, like a pitcher who undergoes Tommy John surgery and comes back throwing harder. That happens for some pitchers, and it would be wonderful if it happens for Peyton Manning, but I'm not holding my breath.
No, wait, maybe I am holding my breath. Hands over my eyes, fingers splayed, not breathing: That's how I'd watch Peyton Manning play his first game or two in 2012, assuming he plays again.
But that's not what I'm hearing from you folks. From you folks I'm hearing the opposite: Please come play for my team, Peyton!
Maybe that's not barbaric, but it is cold. It implies, "Look, it's not like that's me risking paralysis."
And no, it's not. It's Peyton Manning risking paralysis, more so than the typical player risks paralysis every time he steps onto an NFL field. Manning isn't the typical player; he's much more vulnerable: older, slower and with a neck that has been surgically repaired multiple times. You know that analogy I gave earlier, about the 9-year-old playing in traffic? It's not good enough. Manning isn't that kid, he's this one: He'd be a 9-year-old playing traffic -- with cars trying to run him over.
But that's what you want to see, lots of you anyway. You want to see those cars try to run over Peyton Manning, and I don't get it. Some days when I write, I feel meaner than most folks -- but this is one of those days I feel nicer, gentler.
The bounty system, where enormous NFL players were financially rewarded by coaches to injure an opponent so badly that he can't play again that day? Peyton Manning, old and slow and weak in the neck, returning to play for your team? People are OK with that stuff, and I don't understand. I hope I never understand.
Call me soft. I can take it.
Sure beats what I'm calling you.