Thursday, March 8, 2012

Luck Destroys Karma. Or: Why I Hate The NFL Today.

The press conference was moving to watch, the earnestness of emotion striking just the right tenor. Peyton Manning's final act as an Indanapolis Colt was a heartfelt thank you to the only fan base he has played for in 14 NFL seasons. It wasn't cloying or saccharine; it was pretty much perfect, actually. Lovely moment. Yay. Let's move on.

Now that the outcome everybody saw coming for months has transpired, we can busy ourselves with the truly important question: What the hell? Seriously, football's Karma Police are either asleep at the switch or drunk at the wheel or some other phrase that can be conflated with "patently ignoring and/or failing in their duties." Sports are supposed to move in a cyclical fashion when it comes to the fortunes of a given franchise, are they not? You suffer through the lean years, you experience a surge of memorably great times (or at least competence) for a decade or so, then it's back to the suffering until that next golden trade or draft pick delivers the goods and pulls you out of the hole again. Lather, rinse, repeat. There are long-form narratives, ebbs and flows that are supposed to be observed here. If you've been fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury of 14 seasons of maybe the greatest quarterback of all time, you should have to stand in and take your lumps when that particular run ends. Their ought to be some bottom-of-the-division misery to equalize the halcyon days you just enjoyed, but for some capricious reason, Indianapolis is being granted immunity from the normal balance of the sporting world's hands of fate.

By now, you're well aware of the circumstances that brought the Colts' relationship with Peyton Manning to and end. The neck surgery that kept him out of last season, the uncertainty about how much of his transcendent ability he might've lost when he returns, the $28 million they were going to owe him if they didn't cut ties. And oh yes, the fact that because they didn't have their star QB all year, Indy finished 2-14, qualifying them for the worst record in the NFL, the first pick in the 2012 draft, and the ability to draft Andrew Luck, who just happens to be the most highly touted pro quarterback prospect since, well, Peyton Manning. This is so blatantly unfair that you can practically hear the screams of agonized outrage emanating from hard-luck sports cities across the country. Because you shouldn't be allowed to luck into two franchise quarterbacks of this caliber back to back. It just ain't right.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Andrew Luck won't turn out to resemble Ryan Leaf more closely than he does Manning. The history of the NFL is littered with players whose careers ended in a maelstrom of hollow promise and unrealized potential. For every ten combine and pro day studs or consensus high picks on someone's Big Board, you can find four or five (and occasionally seven or eight) who, for whatever reason, simply cannot succeed at the game's highest and most demanding level. Andrew Luck could be one of those perplexing and inexplicable busts, but the guy is as close to a sure thing as has ever existed. I'm fairly certain he's going to be an above-average professional quarterback at the least, and he has the potential to be as elite as anyone in the game. Which is what's so maddening about this situation.

If, say, Charlie Whitehurst had somehow evolved into a stud QB for the Seahawks, we'd all be happy for him and for Seattle. That city has suffered enough sports ignominy, and any hope or success that chooses to smile upon them is only fair. Indy doesn't need that kind of morale boost. Aside form the fact that they just got 14 seasons of Peyton Freaking Manning, there's plenty to smile about in Indianapolis without be gifted another brilliant QB. The Pacers are playoff-bound on the strength of a talented and selfless young squad that has been further catalyzed by the off-season acquisition of David West. The Hoosiers are playing there best basketball in years and have knocked off Kentucky, Ohio State, and Michigan State this season. They just got to host a Super Bowl, and of course will also be hosting the "Hillbilly Super Bowl", that annual spectacle and cash cow known as the Indy 500. In short, they don't need Andrew Luck in Indy. Can't they endure a few seasons of workaday-or-below performances from the Colts before automatically becoming serious contenders again?

Apparently not. Apparently the Golden Age of Indianapolis football is rolling on without a hitch. The Colts just flat-out released perhaps the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. They're about to draft the most talented, well-equipped replacement imaginable. Meanwhile, teams like the Cardinals and Chiefs will soldier on through the morass of indignity and irrelevance. Karma has been deferred until a later, undetermined date, and fairness and balance have taken a sabbatical. What a crappy day to be an NFL fan. Unless you live in Indy. Enjoy your luck with Luck, you lucky jerks. Jeeze, who needs a drink?

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