A Roaring Start to Fall
Something tells me it's going to be a long while before anybody starts missing the NHL. Just too much going on.
A weekend of amazing U.S. Open tennis - Filip Peliwo! - plus interesting CFL results produced lots of entertainment. College/university football on both sides of the border was exciting, and anybody with a kid in minor hockey can tell you there's tons of hockey on their agenda these days. The West Mall early bird tourney got my hockey season rolling. The NFL burst out of the gate with some good games, replacement officials and some history, as Shannon Eastin became the first woman to be part of a NFL regular season officiating crew.
The piece de resistance, meanwhile, was the return of Peyton Manning, a night when anybody who loves football understood just how much we missed this guy, one of the most unique quarterbacks in football history. Just pure entertainment when Manning is behind centre, and even in a golden era for NFL quarterbacking, he's going to be one of the players you just don't want to miss most Sundays.
The talent under centre in the NFL right now really is something. The NFL has the new young stars like Andrew Luck and RGIII, the developing stars in Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith, and the established superstars like Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Eli Manning.
It was big brother Peyton, however, who outdueled mutl-Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday night, shaking off nearly two years of rust and serious neck surgery to put on a show in Denver. His ability to make a rather ordinary group of Bronco receivers look dangerous against a very good Pittsburgh defence was striking as he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns, with the game decided by a interception touchdown by Denver cornerback Tracy Porter, perhaps the second most important off-season addition by John Elway.
Manning, now 36 and still able to command an $18 million salary despite his health problems, got better and better as the game wore on, particularly when Denver went to a more aggressive no-huddle offence in the third and fourth quarters, and won his personal chess match with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
"I don't know how his neck is doing, but his brain is doing fine," said TV analyst Cris Collinsworth.
The hope for football fans is that Manning's move to a new team will work out better than it did for star QBs of the past who weren't even close to their former selves when they shifted squads. You could put Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Roman Gabriel and Joe Namath in that category, although Montana did at least make the Pro Bowl as a Kansas City Chief. It won't be easy for Manning to match in Denver what he accomplished in Indy, and that's the standard he has to reach for this gambit to be judged worthwhile. That said, the Broncos-Steelers game was the most watched NFL regular season tilt in 15 years, so just having him back at all is something special.
The arm looked strong and accurate in a game that looked like a continuation of last year's Denver-Pittsburgh wild card game, with Manning in for Tim Tebow and Todd Haley organizing the Pitt offence instead of the departed Bruce Arians. The Broncos still won, but with Manning, they clearly looked much more dangerous. The Steelers were again missing safety Ryan Clark, who can't play at altitude, and didn't pick off Manning, a QB who is 80-12 in games in which he doesn't throw an interception.
It's still weird, despite the business and football logic, to recall that the Colts cut Manning. They have their new QB in Luck, but the Broncos got one of the greatest for free and now he looks like he might still be one of the greatest.
This should make good Sunday viewing for a while. Those NHL fellows should stay out for as long as they need to get themselves organized to play again.