Manning the Transition (October 15, 2013)

For lovers of the NFL, one of the big stories of the season so far is the resurgence of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The 37 year-old has simply been on fire, and in the course of a career filled with numerous triumphs and milestones, the athlete is poised to turn in his best year yet.

For a number of reasons, not the least being his calendar age (in 2008, the average quarterback handed in his cleats at 29.1 years old), Peyton is a marvel. For comparison purposes, you don’t have to look farther than another branch of the Manning family tree. Peyton’s younger brother Eli is the two-time Super Bowl-winning QB of the New York Giants. The 31 year-old Eli “leads” the league this season with 15 interceptions in just six games. Turn on any Sunday game broadcast and you’ll hear commentators celebrate Eli’s “Hall of Fame” career as if he has already retired. Ouch.

But there’s another facet of Peyton Manning 2.0 that is every bit as inspirational as his longevity. And that is his almost bionic ability to rebound from serious injury.

In May 2011, four years after Manning’s Indianapolis Colts shamed the Chicago Bears at Super Bowl XLI, the superstar underwent neck surgery to deal with neck pain and arm weakness that had plagued him for several seasons. Just two months later, the Colts displayed confidence in their marquee player by signing him to a five-year, $90 million contract extension.

The first procedure unfortunately failed to yield the necessary results, and in September 2011 Manning underwent a second, much more serious surgery – a level one cervical fusion. The Iron Man had never missed a game before, but was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season during his recovery. Meanwhile the Colts had drafted the promising Andrew Luck and were getting antsy to put him on the field. And so in what may go down in hindsight as one of the most questionable and ungrateful moves in NFL history, Indianapolis released Manning on March 7, 2012.

Just over two weeks later, after the legend visited and worked out with several NFL teams (I will NEVER forgive the Bears for not trying to make the man a serious offer), he signed with the Denver Broncos on March 20, 2012. The rest, as they say is history and to invoke a second cliché, the moral of the story is: if Peyton Manning tells you his has gas left in the tank, believe him!

Beyond simple admiration for Manning’s talent, temerity and professionalism, I am invoking the player this week as an inspirational figure. For myself. In the last several months, life has been turned upside down by chronic pompholyx eczema that is slowly taking over my hands. Burning, painful itch and disfigurement has pretty much consumed my waking hours, affecting my career (often my extremities are too swollen and uncomfortable for typing), my self-esteem and beloved, therapeutic exercise routines (adieu, Russian kettlebells). I am still coming to terms with the reality that my once soft, unblemished hands are never returning. Mitigate and workaround is the best I can do. Too often we don’t realize how much we’ve taken something for granted until it is gone. I am an Italian woman who no longer uses her hands demonstratively in conversation. The sense of touch is limited to the hours of the day free from plastic gloves, and restricted to those certain not to recoil from my frightening looking appendages.

Though I am making peace with and saying goodbye to certain elements of my former existence, I have to believe that new opportunities will present themselves, else I’ll give into the temptation to wallow (and yes, I will have those days). My talented hairstylist and friend Linda told me last week she was surprised that there isn’t more awareness of pompholyx eczema, given the incredibly debilitating and depressing nature of the condition. She then pointedly added “I know a great writer who could change that.” While I’m not sure I’m ready to be the “face” (or hands) of pompholyx, Linda got me thinking of how I might ultimately put my suffering to good use.

I’m still sorting it out, but as a source of comfort and motivation, I’m seeking identification with a post-Colts released Peyton Manning. We’ll never know exactly what was going through Manning’s head in the moment, but I can imagine the loss of support from the team he built hurt a great deal. Maybe he experienced moments of doubt about his playing future. Perhaps he wondered if he’d ever return to champion form, before promptly silencing all of those internal questions and external detractors with mind-boggling productivity.

Maybe there’s a Becky 2.0 waiting to be unleashed: a little older, slower to heal, more deliberate and thoughtful in her movements. Trades have to be made. Chances have to be taken. Unproductive days have to be anticipated and respected. But perhaps my Denver Days are still ahead.

Fantasy Football Fraud (August 28, 2012)

Football Charlie Brown

 

 

There are numerous forms of sexism which irk me: the assumption on the part of some that we are mentally and physically the weaker gender, the presumption that women should be overruled when it comes to decision-making power over their reproductive cycles, the corporate glass ceilings that still exist which often permit women to do the same work for less pay, with fewer opportunities for advancement. These are among the more obvious examples and there are plenty more from which to choose. But as a lifelong sports fan about to welcome the official start of the football season, I am reminded again of the generally-accepted prejudice when it comes to women and sports. And I am not talking about small-minded attitudes about our individual athletic ability, although that rankles as well. My personal tale for the week revolves around a male-dominated office environment and a 2012 NFL Fantasy Football League.

I was born into this cruel world a Chicago Cubs fan and an ardent student of professional baseball, mentored by a statistic-loving father. Baseball will always be my first love in the sporting world, but several years ago, my enthusiasm for that particular game met its match when I gave football a serious look. Up to that time, I had written off the occupation as unnecessarily violent and complicated, code for “It makes me feel dumb.” I could sing-rap every verse to the 1985 Chicago Bears’ playoff anthem, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” but I didn’t understand the roles of the men on the field that weren’t quarterbacking or field goal kicking, nor did I care to try. It seemed like too much  investment.

But decades of disappointment experienced at the hands of The Loveable Losers (Where were you during “The Bartman Incident?” Every Cubs fan has a memory.) and some initiation into the world of office sports pools turned this woman into a hyper-competitive gridiron addict. I have written about my up-and-down emotional journey with a Pick-a-Winner (PAW) contest in which I have participated for the past six years. I join New York Jets fans the world over in detesting Brett Favre. Long story short, after a deep immersion in the NFL for more than a half-decade, I know my shit.

This season in addition to regular participation in PAW, I am branching out my sports wagering empire to include a Fantasy League Football team through my current workplace, via Yahoo! Sports. Last year, my company was a little less ambitious, containing efforts to a weekly, straightforward pool, during the course of which I CLEANED UP! I won far more money than any other male participant, and it would be positively indecent to discuss the can of whoop ass I opened up during the special Super Bowl edition. But do you think this success buys any respect or even an admission that I might just be a real football fan? Nope, instead I was treated to the requisite, unimaginative jokes about women selecting winners based on the attractiveness of a club’s uniform color.

On Tuesday nights, I attend a kickboxing class, my favorite release of physical aggression, and the Commissioner of the company’s league scheduled the draft to begin right around the time I’m jumping rope with my fellow students. I understand that not everyone’s itinerary can be accommodated so rather than just rely on the chancy auto pick function, which makes team selections in the event of absenteeism, I asked my boyfriend to stand in for me. Regardless of the lamentable fact that he is an Indianapolis Colts fan, I trust him completely. He understands the seriousness with which I take this and we have been discussing the draft, the order in which I’d like my positions selected and who I would ideally like to fill them, for weeks. It must be mentioned that JC takes his assignment so ardently, he is logging on before the start of the madness to do some additional research. Perhaps a training injury took place this week of which we’re not aware. It’s really gratifying to have such a partner.

But instead of congratulating me for capable delegation and the investment in a relationship of equals, I am dealing with predictable accusations that I have secured “a ringer.” Sigh. Sometimes the chauvinistic ignorance is nearly too much to bear.

I realize that some of the “teasing” is a legitimate attempt to drive me from the League, to turn it into the non-threatening boys’ club it was intended to be. Sadly it really stings a certain section of the male populace to lose to a girl, as if that somehow inverts their masculinity. I’m hardly Susan B. Anthony or anything, but I feel I’d be doing a disservice to myself as well as my gender to run from these attitudes simply because they’re unpleasant. So once the draft concludes, I suppose I’ll have to keep making my point with understated, superior management skills. The “Woman’s Curse” is not menstruation. It is dogged, multi-tasking competence and willful patriarchal arrogance.

Go New Orleans! (February 6, 2010)

superbowl

It was not until the Fall of 2006 that I began to take a real interest in the NFL. At first, my thirst for knowledge was driven by the need for information, a competitive edge so that I could take everyone’s money in the Pick A Winner Pool which I participate in every year. I haven’t actually mamanged to take it all yet, but I am working on it.

Anyway, I found as I studied, once I got past the assumption that I will ever understand EVERYTHING that happens on the field (the sport is just too complicated), I started to like what I saw. I enjoy the way a lead changes four or five times in a game, the way that a pick can shift momentum and put you back on the edge of your seat when you’d already given up on the home team. I like the loud, rowdy fans, the crunching of hot male bodies (in some cases), the failure of my enemies (I am talking to you Brett Favre). In short, football kind of makes me feel alive, riding a roller coaster of emotions that are precarious from one whistle blow to the next.

Tomorrow, as you know, is the Super Bowl, another championship game without the Chicago Bears (I maintain they didn’t show up to the last one they played in either). No matter because I find myself firmly on the side of the New Orleans’ Saints. Not only have they never won a team ring before, but the City has been through an awful lot in the last six years. They need the morale boost, and with the play of their football team this year, they deserve it.

I am also a bit tired of Peyton Manning and the Colts, not the least because they were the team to humiliate the Bears this weekend in 2007. The Colts are becoming like the Patriots once were, or the Yankees still are – that annoying team that always seems to find itself in the last stages of the playoffs, predictable, the ones you start rooting against.

It promises to be a good match. I have picked my side. What’s yours?