It’s not embarrassing at all.
There’s good news for Peyton Manning, though it’s little wonder he might sound a bit peevish. The Broncos—favored to win Super Bowl XLVIII—had just been beaten by the Seattle Seahawks by a, well, embarrassing score of 43 to 8. Manning went on to add, “I would never use that word. The word ’embarrassing’ is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.” He was responding to a snarky question from a reporter who asked if he’d been “embarrassed” on the field. To be sure, it was a dismal game for Manning and the Broncos. None-the-less, a lot of hard work and heart went into getting the team to the Super Bowl in the first place. A modicum of respect would seem to be in order. Sadly, none was forthcoming. Before the first quarter was over a picture of Manning talking on the phone to his offensive coordinator was being circulated on the internet captioned, “Mom? Can you come get me?” Another—relying on the same photo—read, “Hello, Papa John’s…At this rate send me that pizza at halftime.” Those were the polite ones. Pundits were quick to say Manning choked, was too old, was too infirm and was unable to play well in “big” games. Hard to believe that this was the same guy who had just won his record fifth MVP award. And it was the same guy who a couple of hours earlier was lauded for coming back after four neck surgeries to play the greatest regular season by a quarterback in NFL history—throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. In a matter of four—really just two—quarters, Manning went from GOAT to just plain goat. At least that’s how it looked to the schadenfreude crowd who delight in such things.
So what’s the good news for Peyton Manning? That’s easy—he’s still Peyton Manning. All the positives are still there. All the successes, records, honors and the courage, strength and character that made them possible remain unchanged. While Super Bowl XLVIII may not be a career highlight, he played hard, was gracious in defeat and still found time to sign autographs for the fans after the game. Oddly, taking time to sign those autographs might have been the most significant part of his day. Meeting with the fans after a game wasn’t unusual. Manning doesn’t take his fans for granted and goes out of his way to be courteous as a matter of respect. But it’s one thing to greet your fans after a victory and quite another to show up after a crushing defeat. Yet defeat tests your mettle and profiles your character. In those moments following Super Bowl XLVIII it was clear to his fans, and probably to Manning himself, that he remained a champion—he remained Peyton Manning.
That’s good news—and its good news for us too. Sooner or later each of us will suffer through our own Super Bowl XLVIII. Mercifully, it won’t be nearly as public as the Broncos’ drubbing, but it will be our own deeply felt embarrassment, humiliation or shame. Also, like Manning, we might have to endure barbs inflicted by those who take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. But personal or career reversals are just events. It’s simply the rhythm of life that sometimes bad stuff happens. When it does, we choose how we respond. If we remember that our essential personhood is still intact, we’ll have the strength to respond with dignity, fix whatever went wrong and tackle the next challenge. Events can’t diminish who we are unless we let them. It’s our choice. So when you next face adversity, take a page from Peyton Manning’s playbook—swallow the bitter pill, connect with your fans and look forward to the next season. Remember, you’re still you. —Ebert