Where Have All The Mentors Gone?

A few years ago, Peyton Manning appeared in a skit on Saturday Night Live in which he was supposed to be spending the day as a United Way mentor to a group of children. The joke of the skit was that the clean-cut, “Mr. Nice Guy” Manning was a total heel, generally terrorizing the poor kids all day long. I remember not thinking it was all that funny, but, then, I’m a guy who can’t stand seeing kids being picked on, even if it’s just pretend.

I wasn’t thinking of that skit today as Manning and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay sat together during a remarkably amicable press conference and announced the team would be moving on next season without its famed quarterback. All day long, there was one word I kept hearing over and over again associated with Manning – “classy.”

There were, of course, a number of variables which led to the Colts deciding to release the four-time NFL MVP. There was money (The Colts would have had to pick up the $28 million option on Manning’s contract, which would then have triggered the final four years of his $90 million contract.). There were health questions lingering concerning Manning’s surgically-repaired neck and his ability to throw the football. And there was (and is) a certain Stanford quarterback the team will likely take with the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

That last point – the assumption that the team will choose Andrew Luck as its quarterback of the future – is worth keeping in mind as Manning begins to test the free agent waters of the NFL. Back when the story first broke that the Colts might be considering cutting Manning loose, many analysts questioned whether the resident Alpha Dog could co-exist with the new, younger upstart on the scene. Manning’s idiot dad, Archie, basically said he didn’t believe having the two on the same team would be beneficial to either one of them. If the Colts drafted Luck, most people assumed he would play right away, and, well, where would that leave Peyton?

It’s been no secret in recent years that the brilliant “mentoring” Brett Favre did for Aaron Rogers was basically non-existent. Still, Rogers had the advantage of studying a Hall of Fame quarterback run an NFL offense for a couple of years before being thrown into the fire. I’m starting to get the feeling, though, that the Rogers/Favre dynamic may be the last time we see a student/mentor relationship in the NFL at the quarterback position. Players like Manning watched Favre be pushed out against his will in Green Bay, and franchise quarterbacks generally prefer to depart on their own terms. One gets the feeling that Peyton would rather be carted off the field on a stretcher than have to hold a clipboard as a backup, and he probably wouldn’t take kindly to having the new blood breathing down his neck every year for the starting position.

This dilemma of providing a mentor for the next-in-line is an epidemic which reaches far beyond professional football, however. The country is facing a shortage of fathers to direct the lives of young men. Executives in the business world are taking their money and heading for the hills, leaving their successors to feel their way around in the dark as they try and learn the ropes. Many want to be rewarded for paying their dues; few want to remain around to help the ones following behind begin to pay theirs.

I think it bears worth repeating a story I read recently concerning Peyton’s brother, Eli, and former “sure thing” NFL draft bust Ryan Leaf. Leaf was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1998, exactly one spot behind Peyton Manning. Of course, the rest of that story is history, as Peyton would go on to become an NFL legend and Leaf would turn out to be a legendary bust. A few years later, Eli allegedly got wind of reports that Leaf received virtually no mentoring when he arrived in San Diego, whereas Peyton had been embraced by the Colts organization. Eli was drafted by the Chargers, demanded a trade, and wound up in New York. The rest there, as well, is history.

It seems ironic, then, that as the Colts prepare to welcome in a new face (and arm) that Eli’s big brother seemed to want nothing to do with helping out the new kid on the block. Just think for a minute about mentoring under Peyton Manning. It was clearly evidenced last season that Manning had basically been running the team over the past several years. Being able to pass his intellect down to a specimen of Luck’s caliber would have been a tremendous asset. As it stands now, though, it looks as if Luck will be thrown to the wolves right from the get-go, while Manning will be collecting hefty paycheck as “The Man” somewhere else.

I’m not saying Manning is a bad guy for going the route he’s going, but it is sort of a shame he didn’t want to try and hand off the reins and keep the Colts franchise relevant after he’s gone. Peyton said in his press conference this afternoon that he’d “be a Colt for life.” That may be true in spirit, but Manning’s actions today ended that reality.

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