I write this, of course, as a Tennessee Vol fan, which colors the whole thing. I simply point this out for any Chiefs fans that might stumble their way to this post and vehemently disagree with any or all of it. The argument here isn't necessarily what's best for the Chiefs - though it might be just that - it's what's best for UT fans.
I also write it as a Tennessee Titans fan, which means I've spent much of this week trying to figure out which of their three playoff scenarios is the least complicated (answer: none of them). But for the other franchise that holds the hearts of Tennesseans, the scenario this weekend is quite simple. If the Indianapolis Colts fall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indy finishes at 2-14 and will lock up the number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But if the Colts win their third straight to finish at 3-13, St. Louis could finish behind them at 2-14 with a loss to San Francisco. The fate of Andrew Luck hangs in the balance.
And so does the fate of Peyton Manning, our most beloved son. We broached this subject back in mid-August, when Manning's injury was more of a mystery but the assumption was he would play. In the poll with that story, 43% of our readers said their favorite NFL team was Indianapolis, with 31% going for the home-state Titans. (By the way, UT/Indy fans - how many games have you watched this season? My grandparents, who are the poster "children" for the UT/Indy Manning Superfan, watched Week 1 and 2, then started watching Eli and the Giants every week.)
I ask that question because the assumption has always been that when Manning retires - which we now know is coming sooner rather than later - the large percentage of Vol fans who followed him faithfully each Sunday would migrate to a new team. We've discussed before that the Titans make the most sense, but because Manning has been their division rival for almost his entire career, the more you followed the Colts the less you cheered for the Titans. For those who took their Sunday viewing seriously, it may not be so easy to just become a Titans fan. It might be easy to become a Tyler Bray fan, but that's a story for a different day.
But Manning's on-field time in Indianapolis could already be over, and UT/Indy fans have had an entire season to get used to it. That will ease whatever pain - which may not even exist for many - might come if/when Manning leaves Indianapolis for a new location for the twilight of his career. If the Colts finish at the bottom, we'll have four months worth of conversation about what Indy should do and where Manning should go.
But for that percentage of Vol/Colt fans, and for Vol/Titan fans, there is one realistic option that we like much more than any other:
Peyton Manning should join the Kansas City Chiefs.
I'm not alone here: earlier this month Mel Kiper said that Manning should land in Kansas City, which was followed up two weeks ago by a story in the Kansas City Star citing concerns about Manning's age and health being a major risk for the Chiefs, given their young core of players.
Manning's health is a major risk for any team - I'm not downplaying or ignoring that here, I'm simply stating that anyone who takes him or Indianapolis if it trades the pick and keeps him, you're on limited time and dealing with a scary situation. It's a factor for everyone.
But to have concerns about Manning's age or his influence on a young core of players is absurd. You can break out all the stats on other 36 year old quarterbacks all you want, but there is no valid comparison to Peyton Manning. He's not Donovan McNabb, he's not Dan Marino, he's not Joe Montana (though more on him in a minute). Manning's injury is a very valid reason to be hesitant. But there's nothing about his play on the field, at any age before the injury, that would make you think you wouldn't want him on your team (or around your young players). In fact, we've just spent the entire season seeing exactly how valuable Manning really was in Indianapolis. This isn't the place to have the Brady or Manning debate or discuss his place among the all-time greats. But what you do know is that he's on that list, and he never showed any signs of slowing down until this injury. The next time Manning's on-field performance shows significant decline due to age will be the first time.
So...let's say the Colts suck out and earn the number one pick. 63% of voters on our SB Nation Colts blog Stampede Blue don't want Indy to lose on purpose on Sunday, for what it's worth. I'll let Colts fans debate the merits of sticking with their injured hero vs. trading for the can't miss kid from Stanford. But for the purposes of this exercise, let's say they want to move Manning.
And let's be realistic - while it would be fun to watch Manning throw touchdowns to Jason Witten in Dallas, the Cowboys aren't going in that direction. Neither are the Texans, so no handing off to Arian Foster...which also wouldn't get him out of the AFC South.
For UT fans? The 43% who like the Colts will follow Peyton anywhere. But the 31% of Titans fans who, like me, really want to cheer for Manning every week, especially as his career has fewer and fewer games left in it, but haven't been able to because his success meant less for the Titans?
I'd really love for Manning to go to the NFC...but of the realistic options on the table, absolutely none would be better for UT fans than for Manning to land with the Chiefs.
That's because the only player on campus in Knoxville who has even come close to the level of adoration that Manning still holds is Eric Berry.
There have been other great players like Jamal Lewis and Albert Haynesworth. But even those of whom we speak with the highest honor, like Al Wilson, can't come close to the levels of love that Manning and Berry achieved. Al Wilson was the leader of a National Championship team, but we really only associate him with that season; much of his work before that was overshadowed playing on a defense with Leonard Little and a team, of course, with Manning.
But Eric Berry was the first guy since Manning who stood out so strongly as a freshman that it made you think, "Oh man, we get AT LEAST two more years of this guy?!"...and then followed it up with brilliance for the rest of their career. And both are, by all accounts, outstanding human beings off the field. Manning played the game's most popular position, changed the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry, won UT's first SEC Championship Game and should've won a Heisman Trophy. Berry was different, the great player on less-talented teams, but that made us focus in on him so much more. His hits, his interception returns, and simply his presence in the defensive backfield made #14 a must-watch on every snap. Their play and their longevity in Knoxville stand alone, as does their adoration from the fan base.
So if they were on the same NFL team, on different sides of the ball? You'd watch. I would too.
Manning in Kansas City would join Berry on the SEChiefs - Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster, Leonard Pope, Kendrick Lewis, Justin Houston, Glenn Dorsey, Javier Arenas, and of course, Dustin Colquitt. And as someone who particularly enjoyed Manning getting the best of Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl, you'd get Manning vs. Tebow in the AFC West.
The Chiefs picked up Kyle Orton from waivers this season and Matt Cassel will return, but Orton will become a free agent...and Cassel ain't Manning. Kansas City needs a new head coach and will have decisions to make at the quarterback position...but remember, they played this game before with Joe Montana, who left San Francisco to end his career with the Chiefs. In his only two years in KC, Joe Cool led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game in 1993 and back to the playoffs in 1994; the 1993 run is the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game. It's worked before. It can work again.
Get Manning away from the Titans. Let Tennessee fans be united in support for their favorite player for the last chapter of his career. Send Peyton Manning to a team that has the young core capable of victory now, including the most loved Vol since Manning himself...a team that could be just one quarterback away from the real thing.
I've love nothing more than to see Peyton Manning healthy in a Chiefs uniform next fall.