Manning and Leno display grace 
as they suffer a week of ignominy

It’s hard to imagine that there are many people out there who had a worse week on the job than Peyton Manning or Jay Leno.

Manning — icon, MVP, a man poised to overcome his big-game demons and solidify his place as the greatest quarterback in the history of the game — suffered as disastrous a defeat as has been served up in the history of the game.

There really is no way to sugarcoat Manning’s dark Sunday.

While his teammates were wetting the bed on the world’s largest stage, Manning the Conqueror seemed powerless to turn around the death-spiraling course of events in a blowout Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

For “the man” on “the team” in “the game” it was the worst kind of professional failure.

And if it weren’t bad enough that 111 million viewers were party to the entire debacle, Manning now gets to endure at least an entire off-season of know-it-all reporters and beer-bellied, Monday-morning bloggers attempting to extrapolate his disastrous day into a more generalized series of human deficiencies: Manning is not good enough, not poised enough, not courageous enough to seize the moment, they will say.

For someone like Peyton, this must be the worst indignity of them all.

If there is another person on the planet who can sympathize with the depths of PFM’s plight over the last several days, it might be Jay Leno.

Leno, of course, was unceremoniously shoved out of his Tonight Show chair for Jimmy Fallon this week. Even though Leno is (and for the better part of two decades has been) perched atop the late-night ratings, the critics and Hollywood elite have never been particularly keen on him, and his relationship with the higher-ups at NBC has been famously topsy-turvy.

This is Hollywood, and Leno is seen as too old, too conventional, too yesteryear — like a VCR in the era of Twitter and Vine. And so NBC fired him for the younger, trendier Fallon.

Where the tales of Manning and Leno merge is in the spectacular grace they showed in the face of such grandiose ignominy.

When Fallon made an appearance on his show to pass the baton last week, Leno literally doted on the man who had taken his job. In a “60 Minutes” interview, Leno gave the clear impression that he was rooting for his replacement to succeed — and it was no stand-up act, just stand-up character.

Peyton’s handling of the post-Super Bowl morass was even more memorable. Before leaving the field, Manning was checking in on the medical status of Seahawks’ showman Richard Sherman, who had injured his foot late in the game. In the post-game press conference, Manning was sullen but rock-solid — a total man about it all.

When a brain-dead reporter asked him if he was embarrassed, when most of us would have gone over the podium at the two-bit jerk who asked the question, Peyton responded directly that he was not — emphatically not.

On the way to the team bus, in video that went viral within minutes, Manning is seen stopping for fan after fan, signing autographs, when surely he must have wanted to hide under a rock.

Never mind all those passing records, as a human, Peyton Manning is so much the real deal. Ironically, that’s never been more obvious than last Sunday, the worst day of his professional career.

If a measure of the man is how he responds to adversity, another measure is how he copes with humiliation. Humiliation? Manning and Leno refused to be humiliated.

The cases of Manning and Leno are worth noting, not because football is the end all be all, or because celebrity makes the successes or failures of these two men inherently more or less important than any of ours. In the eyes of the creator, Leno and Manning are no more important than any of the rest of us, and football and show business probably don’t count for much at all.

No, the grace of Manning and Leno amid humiliation is worth noting — and admiring — simply because they did it right. Manning and Leno have never shined as bright as during the dark moments of their last week.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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