This post is not about hobbits. Peyton Manning returned to Indianapolis for a greatly ballyhooed game against his old team. The Broncos were a 6 point favorite and up to that point they were laying waste to the opposition and Manning was playing otherworldly football. The internet was awash with talk of "Evil Manning" and how the move to the Broncos sparked some killer instinct in him. So I chose Denver as my "best bet" (meaning that game counts for 2 points) in my picks pool. They lost, natch.
I say "natch" not just because I famously put the mush on my best bets, but also because Manning has a history of coming up small in big spots. He's 9-11 in the playoffs and 6-11 in the regular season against the archrival Patriots. I could dig deeper but I'm too lazy so I'm just going to say that Manning tends to wilt under the glare of the brightest spotlights.
If ever there was a game where Peyton Manning would plumb the depths of his anger and channel it into his play, this was it. Instead he fumbled a ball out of the endzone for a safety and opened the floodgates for a deluge of Colt scores halfway through the second quarter. The Broncos would never regain the lead.
Hall of Fame caliber QB's don't change teams too often, but I thought of a few and looked up how they performed against their old teams. Here's what I found:
It's easier to read if you click on the table.
The first guy I thought of was Joe Montana. As you can see he put on a masterful performance for the Chiefs against the Niners. This likely surprises no one -- if anyone is going to vengefully drop a perfect game against the team that spurned him it's going to be Montana.
Steve McNair likely isn't a Hall of Famer, but he played with the Titans/Oilers for 11 years, won a league MVP in Tennesse, and took the Titans to the Super Bowl. When he returned to Nashville as a Raven he carried the offense, throwing 47 times (5th most attempts in one game in his career) for 373 yards (3rd highest single-game effort) and a respectable 90.1 passer rating. More importantly, he led the game-winning drive, capping things off with the winning TD to Derrick Mason.
Unlike McNair, Warren Moon is in the Hall of Fame, and unlike McNair, Moon's lone game against the Oilers/Titans organization wasn't particularly statistically impressive, especially compared to Moon's lofty standards. But Moon completed over 65% of his passes, threw 2 TD, and, most importantly, his team won.
Drew Brees is 2-0 against the Chargers. In those games he went 59-86 (69% completion!) for 709 yards, 7 TD and 1 INT. Not too shabby.
Steve Young was 3-0 against the Bucs and his stats are pretty outstanding:
Brett Favre's numbers against Green Bay are a typically Favreian mixed bag. When you break out the first two games, however, he looks really good:
Kurt Warner has a lot of former teams, so many that I had to color-code them in my chart. I included Green Bay in this exercise because they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1994 but eventually cut him because they already had Brett Favre and future R**skin all-time great Mark Brunell, famously forcing Warner into the Arena League and a brief stint stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee. By my count Warner went 9-4 against teams that dumped him:
These 13 games are almost an entire NFL season, and taken in that light his numbers aren't hugely impressive. So I reorganized them by opponent:
Warner owned the Packers, winning each of his games against them with each of his three subsequent teams. His first win was a playoff game, so it was especially big. His second was probably his most impressive win as a Giant because the Packers were the only team he beat that finished with a winning record that year. Finally, he absolutely pistol-whipped Aaron Rodgers' team in the playoffs with an eye-popping performance.
Warner's numbers against the Giants aren't that great. Notably, he decided to void his contract, the Giants didn't cut him. So maybe he had pangs of guilt when he played them.
Warner went 5-2 against the Rams. He lost his first game against them, but he put on a show when he returned to St. Louis. Interestingly, he won all three games against the Rams in St. Louis. If you throw out his two home losses, his numbers are (unsurprisingly) even better:
Then I tried to think of big-name QBs who changed teams and sucked. This is what I came up with:
On one hand this is unfair because Bledsoe and McNabb were at the end of their careers and had little left in the tank, that's why they were cut or traded. And they went to shitty teams. But the same can be said for many of the players examined above (notably Warner to the Giants and then Cardinals) but they still beat their old teams.
Here's my thesis: Bledsoe, McNabb, and Palmer were drafted very highly and adored throughout their college careers. They were given the reins to their teams from the moment they were drafted, they never had to sit behind a veteran or fight to get playing time. As a result they were coddled a bit and never developed the inner rage that fuels many great competitors. By contrast, Montana was a 3rd round pick and sat his first year. Moon had to play in Canada for years because no one would play a black QB in the NFL. Favre was a 2nd round pick who didn't play in Atlanta and they dealt him away early. Young went #1 in the supplemental draft but he had to sit and angrily fester behind Montana for years. Warner, as discussed above, is a famous Cinderella story. McNair was the #5 pick in the draft but he didn't play until his 3rd year, forced to watch Chris Chandler play 0.500 ball and getting a little PT only when the Crystal Chandelier was injured. Brees was a second round pick and was uncerimoniously dumped by the Chargers (who sat him for a year behind Flutie), then no one but the Saints wanted him.
Which pattern does Peyton Manning fit? Clearly the Bledsoe/McNabb/Palmer scenario. He was adored so much in college that children born in the late 1990's throughout Tennesse are named Peyton. The Colts drafted him #1 overall and started him right away without forcing him to compete for his job. Never once in his football career has Peyton Manning ever had to fight for his job, never once has he feared that someone else would take his livelihood from him, and as a result I suspect that he's been robbed of the opportunity to develop a killer competitive instinct like, say, Michael Jordan or Tom Brady (If the Pats ever cut Brady he would destroy them given the opportunity. You know I'm right on this. How big would the line need to be for you to take the Pats? 10? 14? 17?). Petyon's always been treated like a king, given everything he ever desired on a silver platter, so he doesn't know how to scrap like a pauper to get what he wants. And that's why I was an idiot for making the Broncos my best bet last week
Finally, because I have irrational dislike for Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell ...