Disrespect, QB controversies, and inspired comebacks
by rick olivares
October 19, 2009, Brett Favre, in his first game back at Lambeau Field, led the hated Minnesota Vikings to 38-26 win over the Green Bay Packers despite taking in so much vitriol that it’s an amazing feat that he was able to keep his head in the game.
The situation between the return of Favre to Lambeau is far different from the circumstances that Peyton Manning finds himself in his first game back at Indianapolis this Sunday (Monday in Manila) as the quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
Favre’s relationship with Green Bay degenerated to the point where any return had become an untenable situation. Favre came out of retirement to play for the New York Jets for a season before he went to Green Bay rival Minnesota. The loss to Favre and the Vikings was doubly painful that they needed to win their next meeting. Luckily for them, they managed that but with help from some instant replay and officials’ judgment calls when they overturned three Minnesota touchdown in a 28-24 Packers win.
In these days leading up to the 6-0 Denver Broncos’ road game against the 4-2 Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Field, Indy owner Jim Irsay stirred some controversy when he had this to say about his former quarterback in a USA Today interview: "You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the 'Stars Wars' numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this (ring)."
Personally, I can understand Indianapolis wanting to move on after they opted to release Manning who went through four neck surgeries in order to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck to take them though the next decade or so. Having said that, Irsay didn’t need to make those comments.
I agree with Denver coach John Fox that the remarks were disrespectful and highly inappropriate. On the other hand, I agree with former Colts coach Tony Dungy that it might be a tactic heading into the matchup to play with Manning’s mind.
Irsay knows that Manning will feel all sorts of emotions in his first game back at Lucas Oil Field. But it smells of an ambush. The pre-game tribute – it must be designed to make Manning feel all mushy and lose concentration on the match at hand.
If indeed it is a tactic, does it work? And let’s take a look at the celebrated or infamous returns of former franchise players to the teams that they made great.
When Michael Jordan first returned to the United Center in January 19, 2002 as a member of the Washington Wizards, he struggled to contain his emotions during the thunderous three-minute ovation he received from the Chicago Bulls.
It was indeed a lovefest for Jordan in his return to Chicago as fans scored Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause for breaking up the dynasty even before it was over (in fact they still do to this day).
Jordan felt mushy all game look but the GOAT finished with 16 points (on 7-21 shooting), 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks, and a career high nine turnovers in a 77-69 win over his former team.
When Shaquille O’Neal bolted the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers, his new team was blown out, 110-84, in their only game at the Amway Arena. O’Neal didn’t play that match as he was injured. His comments heading down to Florida were certainly not taken well by the fans and his former teammates.
O’Neal called Orlando “that dried up little pond” and took shots at former coach Brian Hill and team management.
Said Orlando power forward Horace Grant, “I knew Shaq wasn’t going to show up. He talks a lot but I knew he wasn’t going to show up.”
Nick Anderson, who Shaq criticized as well mouthed off after the win, “Say what you have to say, but if you’re so much of a man and you’re in town, why not come here?”
O’Neal opted to watch the game from his hotel room.
Fans held up sign that put their former center in the same breath as Judas and Brutus. One sign even read, ‘Benedict O’Neal.” The NBA’s Scott Howard Cooper reported that “minutes before tipoff, the Magic blasted a portion of ‘I’m a Loser’ by the Beatles over the loud speaker, followed by a bit of Carly Simon with ‘You’re so Vain,’ then the Steve Miller Band song ‘Take the Money and Run’ and ‘Would I Lie to You?’ by The Eurythmics.”
The next season, when Shaq finally played, the Lakers once more lost, 96-94, after Nick Anderson drilled a triple with seven seconds left in the match. Shaq compiled 20 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one turnover in 33 minutes of play.
The Magic were struggling with O’Neal who left as a free agent after the previous season. They were 28-27 at that point while LA was 36-16.
But let’s go back to the NFL.
Remember Joe Cool? Yep, Joe Montana.
In an eerily similar situation, Montana, who had led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl championships. He missed the entire 1991 season and most of thee 1992 seasons due to injury. Steve Young had stepped in and became the team’s quarterback in Montana’s absence.
Montana returned for the final game of the 1992 season and played well. He would not wear the 49ers jersey again. He was traded the following season to Kansas City where he would team up with former Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen.
The Chiefs finished 11-5 in Joe Cool’s first year with them. They won two playoff games but the Cinderella run ended in the AFC Championship game with a 30-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
The next season, the Chiefs opened the 1994 season with a 30-17 win over the New Orleans Saints.
In Week Two, on September 11, 1994, Montana made his return to San Francisco in a match that was billed as “The Vindication Bowl”. It was a Joe Montana-Steve Young showdown.
Montana passed for 203 yards and threw two touchdown passes in a 24-17 Kansas City victory. Joe Cool put aside the game jersey he wore that day and scribbled on the numbers his statistics of that day.
Before Montana was traded to Kansas, he said about the brewing QB controversy in San Francisco, “All I want is fair competition.”
Montana and the Chiefs won the battle that day but the 49ers won the war as they won the Super Bowl that season. Yet even as Young led SF to another Bowl win, he forever lives in Montana’s shadow. That’s what four Super Bowl victories will get you.
And well, just a few weeks ago, in another eerily similar situation, former SF QB Alex Smith, who lost his starting slot to Colin Kaepernick, and was subsequently traded to Kansas City for a fresh start said, “I feel that the only thing I did to lose my job was to get a concussion.”
Last August 16, in a pre-season game between Kaepernick’s 49ers and Smith’s Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas, the visitors came away with a 15-13 win.
As of this writing, Smith’s Kansas City Chiefs are 6-0. And so are Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
Looking ahead and thinking of all that had gone before, I wonder, did Jim Irsay just light a fire under Peyton Manning?