The NFL is a What-Have-You-Done-Lately? world. It's a place that can chew you up and spit you out faster than you can say HUT ONE!
When you're on top, it's the greatest, especially if you're the quarterback of the Super Bowl champs, Peyton Manning in this case, a guy who had marketability cachet even before leading the Colts to a Super Bowl win.
It was hard for Patriots fans to swallow, but the spoils went to Peyton. He'd finally gotten the one thing he couldn't buy, the one thing Tom Brady had that he didn't. A ring. Now Brady's chasing Manning. It's not that Brady has fallen off the face of the earth; it's just that the last glamour quarterback to win a Super Bowl always is the big buzz the following season.
Not that Manning sneaked up on anyone to become some sort of feel-good story. Nope. Manning's been rich and famous for a long time. Everybody assumed he'd win multiple Super Bowls (Dan Marino became haunted by such expectations), but Tom Brady and his Patriots became Peyton's Waterloo.
But Manning finally got his revenge in the AFC title game last season, stepping over Brady's body on the way. That game was the de factor Super Bowl too, since either the Colts or Patriots was going to hand the Bears their lunch. Brady still leads Manning 3-to-1 in rings, but it's Manning who is, until further notice, this year's face of the NFL.
Fact is though, Manning has been in the public eye since his high school days. The son of quarterback Archie Manning, who had a storybook career at Mississippi, Peyton played like he'd leave his dad's legend in the dust some day. By the time he got to Tennessee everyone was sure of it.
He never led the Vols to the national title, but clearly he was going to get his chances at winning Super Bowls. The Colts gave him the toys he needed to play with. Great receivers, especially a future hall of famer Marvin Harrison, and a solid running back. But the Colts still couldn't get over the New England pothole without blowing a tire.
Last season they did, and as the fame game inevitably goes, Brady slips to no. 2 on the nationally hottie popularity poll. OK, he hasn't become extinct. But watch ESPN and you get the picture. After SportsCenter cuts away from it's nightly lawbreakers segment and starts focussing on the F part of NFL, it's clear that Manning and his Colts are on everybody's mind. The NFL talking heads on ESPN can't get enough of Manning. Brady's still there, but in the background.
This exposure for Manning isn't a sure thing for any defending Super Bowl quarterback. When the Ravens and Bucs won their Super Bowls, they did it with nondescript quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. The Bucs didn't figure to remain that good, and they didn't. The Ravens did a little better, but when you thought of them Ray Lewis and his baggage came to mind almost as much as the fact they'd won a Super Bowl.
With Manning, it was different. The Colts were, because of Manning, an alluring team even before they won the Super Bowl. The Colts always seemed to have the goods to go all the way. But the Patriots had their number.
Not anymore. It's Manning's time. Notice the volume of his TV commercials since the Super Bowl, the magazine ads? The guy must have a hard time saying no. Manning's always done commercials, only now he's got something to brag on.
Brady, who is much better looking than Manning (right, gals?) did his share of commercials and ads after his Super Bowl triumphs. It didn't hurt that he looked good. Manning's kinda goofy looking in an innocent down-home way, but doesn't seem to mind playing the foil in a number of spots, like when he pasted on that black mustache. It was good for a laugh.
Now, all the ad agencies are after Manning. It's not because he got handsome as a prince overnight.
So let's say Manning and Brady are running 1-2 among quarterbacks, although I'd like to see a secret QB poll of all the NFL coaches, with Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy not eligible to vote. The Colts are expected to be very good this season. The Patriots too, maybe better than very good.. There is pressure on Manning to prove he's not a one-hit wonder, and pressure on Brady to get the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. It is the only way he'll leapfrog over Manning. Do it on the field and all the baubles fall at your feet.
Manning and Brady get along fine. In fact, their rivalry is good for everybody, the NFL, the fans, TV. But Manning and Brady are who they are because they want to beat each other's brains in. Brady has had the better of it, but the balance has tilted a bit. They measure success only by their rings, and the last one went to Manning.
That should be all the motivation the no. 2 QB in this discussion needs.
Lenny Megliola is a MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.) columnist. His e-mail is email@example.com.