How would you want to go out? I am not talking about death. I am talking about if you could play a professional sport and could decide your exit. How would you do it?
When you got into this discussion with your fellow sports fans the answer almost always was: "I want to go out on top a winner. Walk away knowing that you could still play and excel at the game you love, like John Elway did with the Denver Broncos."
The minority would argue that they would hang on until the bitter end, until they had to literally rip the jersey off of your back and tell you that you could not play the game anymore. Some would walk away as long as they were financially secure. Some would walk away early to avoid any serious life changing injury.
I ask this question today because we have two legendary players in sports right now that look like examples of players who are holding on too long. Peyton Manning, of the Broncos, is a legendary signal-caller. He has won a Super Bowl and is a five-time NFL MVP. His impact on the game is unquestioned as he changed the quarterback position and is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, many thought he should have retired after the 2014 season because he looked done toward the end of last year and especially struggled throwing the football in a playoff loss to the Colts. He has nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions this season and is completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Manning has been out with a plantar fascia tear and has been replaced by Brock Osweiler in the starting lineup. The 39-year-old Manning hopes to be back by Week 15 and there are reports out of Denver that he wants to play next year. But many are asking, "Why?"
The same question is being asked about Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. The 37-year-old is averaging a tad over 15 points per game and is shooting around 30 percent from the floor. He has given the NBA so much. Why go out like this?
Maybe it has something to do with the $25 million dollars that he is being paid this season - clearly for what he did in the past and not for what he is doing now. Money will always be a factor, no questions about that. So, he is collecting past debts from the Lakers that he justly deserves.
So, do either situations change the way you view either player? It really shouldn’t. Both Peyton and Kobe are both great immortal all-time great players that made their respective sports better, and what they are today.
It is easy to say that Manning should have retired after last season, and Bryant has not been healthy in a few years. Who is he fooling? But once you say goodbye, that is it. (Unless, of course, you are Brett Favre.)
Bryant and Manning will always be among of the all-time greats in my mind. It does not matter that they are still playing long past their prime. If either still have the desire to compete and somebody wants to employ them, than they should play. There can be no regrets in life and once it is over, it is over. Once the door closes and playing is no longer an option, than you have to mentally transition - whether you are ready for it or not.
It's then that they become us. Different, but the same. They can draw upon their experiences as a player, but they can no longer play the game.
We, as sports fans, marvel at the accomplishments by the greats of the game. Bryant and Manning certainly are, but if they want to continue to fight father time, so be it. They will come to grips that their playing days are over long after we realized it.
It might be tough to watch now, but the here and now will never define either player.