I don’t cry often. There are only a few events in my life I remember shedding tears over, and two of them were because of Peyton Manning. His Indianapolis Colts obliterated my beloved Denver Broncos in the playoffs two years in a row, outscoring them by a combined 56 points. I can still recall sobbing as Manning kept his foot on the gas pedal, not stopping until he threw 5 touchdowns. The former Colts and Broncos quarterback’s career and public perception mirrors that of another superstar athlete: LeBron James. At a glance, these two athletes are worlds apart. Take a closer look and you will see their myriad similarities.
Peyton Manning and LeBron James were both drafted first overall. Manning was selected in 1998, while James was drafted five years later in 2003. Ironically, both were scrutinized for failing to win world championships and both silenced those critics by winning their elusive first titles in their eighth season. Manning defeated the Chicago Bears as a Colt in 2005. James and his Heat silenced the Thunder in 2011. Also, both generated the most high-profiled free agency decisions in the history of their respective sports. Manning went on a national tour meeting with numerous GM’s that culminated in a contract with the Denver Broncos. James went on tour and announced his new team in an hour-long ESPN special dubbed The Decision.
Manning and James are legends and future Hall of Famers in their respective sports. Manning holds five MVP awards and two Super Bowl rings. James has four MVPs and two rings of his own. Statistically, there is no doubt that these two have revolutionized their sports. Manning holds NFL records in career yards, touchdowns, completions, and wins. He singlehandedly transformed the NFL into the high scoring and offense-oriented game it is today. Meanwhile, James changed the game displaying versatility, a never-before-seen trait for basketball players at his size (6’8” 250 lbs.). For an NBA record 37 times, James has been the game leader in points, rebounds, and assists simultaneously. The next player on that list is Larry Bird who had 13 of such games in his entire career.
Peyton Manning is a mixed bag. He is revered for his work ethic, praised for his pursuit of perfection. Yet, Manning is also slandered in scandals, and criticized for his clutch woes. Then there is LeBron James, who is constantly scrutinized due to cryptic comments and social media mishaps. Deeper than these issues they face, is the fact that both can potentially be the most overlooked sports legends ever.
If I were to tweet right now, “Who is the greatest NFL quarterback to ever play the game?” answers like Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers will surface with Manning’s name somewhere hidden in the conversation. If I conducted a similar test, “Who is the greatest NBA player of all time?” Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and even Stephen Curry will be the top results. Why aren’t LeBron and Peyton’s names mentioned more often? Some say rings, others say clutch factor, and differing styles of play.
LeBron James and Peyton Manning could be long lost brothers for all we know. Their similarities, particularly in their career and public perception create common ground. It shouldn’t go unsaid that they are both savvy businessmen who have almost as many endorsements as hairline jokes. Unlike Manning, James has years left to improve on his career’s trajectory. Unless, of course, Peyton Manning decides to un-retire. If he does, though, you heard it here first…