Touching the Happy Isles One Last Time

Peyton Manning

Tuesday

 Against all expectations, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. In what is  probably the final game of his stellar career, Peyton Manning went out with a win. True, he limped rather than sprinted across the finish line, aided by a historically great defense. Nevertheless, many experts consider this season one of his greatest achievements given all the physical infirmities he battled.

Several years ago, when Peyton went through a bad spell, I cited Robert Frost’s poem “The Oven Bird,” where he asks “what to make of a diminished thing.” On Sunday night that question confronted all of us who have been following Manning’s career.

It was a case of cognitive dissonance. Although he had the lowest ranking of any victorious quarterback in the history of the Super Bowl, he was still victorious. In answer to the question I posed on Friday, he touched the Happy Isles and met the great Achilles. The gulfs did not wash him down. Some football experts—those who look at more than Super Bowl wins—consider him the greatest quarterback of all time. (See item #60 in this Bill Barnwell ESPN article.)

So thanks for all the memories, Peyton, With Walter Savage Landor (in “Dying Speech of an Old Philosopher”), you can say of your playing days,

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
         Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;
         It sinks; and I am ready to depart.

It may seem strange to apply “I strove with none” to a fiercely competitive athlete who has broken virtually every passing record. But in fact Manning has a way of getting along with everyone including, most famously, his arch-rivals Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. And probably no football player has been more appreciative of the art of the game than Manning. Practically everyone is hoping for a graceful departure at this point.

If readers who want to reminisce over the past, here are the blog posts I’ve written about Manning going back to 2009:

Previous posts on Peyton Manning 

Old Age Hath Yet His Honor
Austen, Moral Equivocation, and the NFL
Peyton Manning as Poe’s Dupin
Is Peyton Manning Pitted against a Seattle Puck?
The Return of King Peyton 
Apres Peyton, Le Déluge
Peyton Manning and the Maltese Falcon
Peyton Manning as Moby Dick?!
Federer, Peyton: Made Weak by Time and Fate?
Bill Belichick as Professor Moriarty
What to Make of a Diminished Peyton
Manning vs. Brady, Hector vs. Achilles
Win or Lose, Turn to Beowulf
Quarterback Poems for Inspiration
Football Doggerel in Praise of the Colts
Manning as Beowulf, No Joy in Mudville
Schadenfreude and the NFL
Romanticism, Classicism and Football 

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