As a fan of the Steelers, you're taught to believe that the other teams and their players are the enemy.
While that might be true from a competitive sense, it's not exactly true from a realistic perspective. For example, if you run into Ray Lewis at the DMV, you're not going to get in his face and scream that he sucks. Chances are, you're probably going to take a picture of him (or maybe even with him) and post it on your social media account of choice.
Why would you do this with one of the most hated opposing players in Pittsburgh Steelers history? Because, when those helmets are tucked away in the equipment locker--along with those disgusting purple uniforms--the average opposing player is just like you and me.
There are certain players that may even escape your wrath when they're doing their best to make your team lose. One of those players (at least in my opinion) has always been Peyton Manning, the legendary Broncos' quarterback who will try to put the cherry on top of his already sizable career cake as he leads Denver into battle against the favored Panthers this Sunday evening in Super Bowl 50.
The cherry for Manning will be a second ring if the Broncos can win, which, as hard as it is to believe when talking about a man that just broke the all-time career yardage mark in 2015 (71,940), would leave no doubt about his greatness. There will be no doubt, of course, but there will be critics--as there always are. But, while Manning may not end his career with as many championships as people may like, you have to remember just how many great teams his squads had to compete against during his career that began with the Colts in 1998. Can you deny the greatness of Tom Brady and the Patriots? How about Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers? Those are just some of the obstacles Manning had to try and navigate over and around just to get the one ring he does own.
Some all-time great quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Dan Fouts don't even have that.
Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler, two legendary quarterbacks of the 1970s who helped their teams win Super Bowls, were probably denied more rings thanks to Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers, who wound up with four of them in that decade.
As a fan, all you can really ask for is that your team is competitive. In his 18 years as a starting quarterback in the NFL, Manning has taken his teams to the playoffs 15 times--and one of the years he failed to do so (in 2011 with the Colts) he missed the entire season thanks to multiple neck surgeries. It should be a no-brainer that 15 playoff appearances, four trips to the Super Bowl and at least one ring would be more than enough of a resume, but, again, there will always be critics and doubters.
That's cool, because I'll take one Super Bowl from Manning, considering what he's given the NFL over the years has superseded championships. While so many NFL players have done their best to give the league a black eye over the years, Manning's been there with an ice pack, always in the spotlight and always conducting himself with class and dignity.
You know about the commercials that show-off his charisma and charm, but what about the community work that he never seems to tire of doing? According to this story from IndyStar, once Manning signed with the Broncos in 2012, not only did he begin doing community work in Denver--including reaching out to the victims of the Colorado theater shooting in July of that year--he continued with the charity work he was already doing in Indianapolis, and, oh yes, New Orleans and Tennessee.
Fact is, much like Troy Polamalu during his legendary career in Pittsburgh, it's hard to find anyone with a bad personal opinion of Manning. Oh, sure, there are people who get annoyed with him, but in a "Oh, he watches too much damn film!" kind of way.
It will be easy to root for Manning this Sunday as he tries to go out a champion. Heck, it will be easy to root for him next season, if he doesn't retire and, like some rumors have suggested, winds up in Los Angeles with the relocated Rams.
Perhaps it's fitting that Manning could pass the quarterback torch to Cam Newton this Sunday, if the younger quarterback puts on a classic show and leads the Panthers to their first Super Bowl title. Try as you might, it's kind of hard to hate Newton. Of course, since people are prone to rage and anger over silly things, Newton's varied touchdown celebrations have drawn more attention over the past two weeks than the actual talent that allows him to be involved in so many touchdowns. And, since people like to conveniently pick their spots, the fact that Newton almost always gives the football to a kid in the stands after scoring has taken a backseat to Dab-gate.
But while Newton appears to go about things in a slightly different way than Manning, like the elder quarterback, he seems to "get it."
Being a high-profile quarterback isn't just about victories and championships; it's about interacting with the community and being a goodwill ambassador for the entire NFL (Newton also does extensive charity work).
Come to think of it, unlike last year with the scandal involving Brady and deflated footballs, it seems almost impossible to hate anything about this year's Super Bowl. Either way, no matter who wins, it's going to be a great story.
That's what the Super Bowl should be.