It didn't catch up to me until the sun set on my weekend. Sunday evening as the sky turned in a command performance of orange and blue, the Denver Broncos were heading to the Super Bowl. Their opponent was yet to be selected, but all the fan rays I could possibly have mustered for the week had already been spent on the AFC Championship Game. My wife understood. She had been sitting next to me as my team battled the New England Patriots for the full sixty minutes of regulation time, coming perilously close to slipping into the terrifying world of overtime and its arcane rules and not-so-sudden death. My wife understood because she has been sitting next to me for all these years, as I have watched the rise and fall and rise again of this professional football franchise, as if my life depended on it.
It doesn't. I know that now. But on Sunday afternoon, as the shadows grew long, and the game came down to that final play, my emotions heaving from one side of the spectrum to the next. It is why they play the game. It is why we watch the games. It is why my wife, after years of watching from the sidelines, has found herself on that couch with me, sweating every kick, every first down, awaiting that final score. The gift, for her, was the story: Peyton Manning. The hired gun. The Sheriff. The old man brought in to bring the Broncos back to the glory days. Elway days. This year has not been kind to Mister Manning. Injuries and age have combined to limit his once preternatural skills to that of your standard, garden variety professional quarterback. To the point that he was sent to the bench at the season's mid-point, where he languished while his young upstart padawan led the team to the brink of the playoffs. Would this be the end of seventeen years calling plays, throwing touchdowns, and trying to get back to that spot at the top of the heap?
In a glorious bit of teamwork and ego check, Peyton held on and rode a dominating performance by his defense to victory and a trip to Santa Clara. Rising up and kicking the dirt off his face, kicked there by the pundits and the powers that be, Peyton Manning rode off into that sunset with one more chance to go out a winner. Never mind that he holds more records than just about anyone else who played the game. Never mind that he has won more games than just about anyone in that same group. The old man, younger than me by some thirteen years, is going to play quarterback in the Super Bowl. I want to believe that it was, in part, my fan rays that made that possible. And the chili my wife served us in orange and blue bowls. And the way we cheered and screamed and tensed and relaxed at all the right moments.
It makes a great story. A story that's not over yet.