49ers offered Peyton best chance to win

Jay Glazer discusses Manning and the Broncos.
Jay Glazer discusses Manning and the Broncos.
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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."


At the heart of each NFL franchise is a heartless machine, flawed but merciless, aspiring to completely rational prognostication.

Tim Tebow rejuvenated a franchise. The fans loved him. Sure. But they’ll get over it.

Alex Smith got the 49ers further than they had been in 14 years. Yes. So?

It’s kind of like your fantasy team. Neither flesh nor feeling is supposed to enter the equation. It’s a cost-benefit analysis. The question is not what you’ve done lately. It’s what will you do tomorrow? What will enhance the probability of victory? That’s all that matters.

In that respect, as a football brain, the mind of Peyton Manning is without equal. Anyone who’s seen him barking audibles at the line of scrimmage should know this much. His gift for anticipation, while imperfect, remains superior to any computer program.

Still, the Broncos? I don’t get it.

He can rationalize all he wants. But at some level, there’s an element of hubris at work here. It’s spectacular, really, the most admirable sort of arrogance, a Sinatra lyric come to life. Peyton Manning will do it his way, or, in terms of his football mortality, die trying.

Consider LeBron James’ Decision, as it became a touchstone for fans of all sports. Much of what makes James and the Heat so unsympathetic is the idea that the most talented basketball player on the planet still had to stack the deck. An NBA active roster is 13 guys, but James needed another superstar and a borderline one (or so it was thought, with Chris Bosh) before signing with Miami.

Manning is the opposite of LeBron James. At 35, coming off his fourth neck surgery, he believes in himself more than he believes in his personnel. He cares less about the roster than controlling the offense, his offense.

It’s worth reminding you what Manning said upon his remarkably dignified departure from the Colts: “I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anybody.”

OK, I don’t presume to know what he’s thinking. But I’d kind of like to comprehend what has already become the single most significant personnel move of this or any other NFL season.

The Tennessee Titans I could understand. Manning is the most Southern guy in sports. He went to school in Knoxville. His wife is from Memphis. He’s got 11-month old twins. A contract for life in Tennessee? That’s basically a piece of the team. Makes sense, no?

By not choosing the Titans, then, it stands to reason that he made a football decision. In other words, who cares who you replace? Who cares about conflicts of interest? Who cares if Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, advised his other big client here, Alex Smith, to turn down a $24 million offer from the 49ers last week?

Not Manning. This is about winning, remember? What’s more, given his time served, winning is not to be confused with a division title. Winning means winning a Super Bowl. But again, that’s the strange part here.

Only one team among the finalists for Manning’s services seems Super Bowl ready. That would be San Francisco.

I can’t quite understand why, after 14 seasons, remaining in the conference was such a big deal. It’s not like the olden days of the AFL and NFL. There’s no team he hasn’t seen or can’t study. More apparent is Manning’s simpatico with head coach John Fox and team president John Elway. Makes sense.

The Broncos have two promising young receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. They have Willis McGahee, coming off a wonderful, if surprising season. He’ll turn 31 in October, ancient for a running back. They have Ryan Clady at left tackle, first-team All Pro — in 2009.

Joe Staley, the Niners’ left tackle, only made the second team, but just last year. At running back, Frank Gore is coming off his fifth 1,000 yard season, but is still only 28. Then there’s the receiver position. San Francisco — one score from Super Bowl XLVI — is stocked with talent: Michael Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis and Randy Moss working on an incentive-based contract. You don’t think Manning could make something of those guys?

The disparity in talent is more obvious on defense. Denver’s includes Von Miller; Elvis Dumervil, who’s still coming off surgery, and Champ Bailey, who’ll be a 34-year-old cornerback when the season starts. Three guys don’t make a defense, though. The Broncos were 24th in points and 20th in yards allowed last season.

The 49ers were second and fourth, respectively, in the NFL. The unit returns 11 starters. There are three first team All-Pros — Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Justin Smith — and two more mere Pro-Bowlers, Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson.

It’s defense that wins championships, right?

Unless, perhaps, you’re Peyton Manning. Then you try to win them yourself.

Tagged: Broncos, 49ers, Justin Smith, Peyton Manning, Alex Smith

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