John Paxson. Mario Elie. It’s stung for Suns fans
in the past, but never quite like this.
Jeter and Manning have been on both ends of monumental victories and defeats. (NBAE Photos)
Phoenix’s elimination to arch-rival San Antonio for the second time in three seasons was tough, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to be optimistic.
I know what you’re thinking – here we go with another “rah rah” Suns.com blog justifying why next season will be different. I’m not here to predict anything but I did want to stop by and share a few stories with you.
It’s hard to call Peyton Manning the most underrated player in football. After all, how do you call a league MVP underrated? It’s simple, Manning carries that team and orchestrates that offense like no player we’ve seen this past decade. He makes reading an NFL defense look easy, and better than any player in the NFL (including running backs) allows his defense to rest on the sidelines for extended periods of time.
For whatever reason, however, Manning just could never seem to take his team deep in the playoffs, particularly when it involved getting beyond the New England Patriots. Even in 2005, after Manning shrugged off his 0-7 record in New England to help improve Indianapolis to an 8-0 regular season record, the Pro Bowler couldn’t appear to get over that postseason hump as the Colts fell, this time to the eventual World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
I’ll never forget the night Manning was officially able to get over the hump. It didn’t come in the Super Bowl, but rather the AFC Conference Championship Game against those Patriots. I was working a Suns game that evening and was unable to watch the memorable gridiron contest. I did, however, receive a number of calls from people who wanted to rub it in that my favorite quarterback on my favorite team was again about to come up short to a team which plays near a city I can’t stand. On this evening, I did make a guarantee. To everyone who called to update me on the Colts’ 18-point deficit, I spoke of the events which would follow.
In my best rendition of Paul Westphal’s 1993 Opening Round Series guarantee, I said, “We’re going to win the ballgame. We’re going to overcome the deficit and tomorrow everybody will talk about how Manning was finally able to get over the hump after doing the impossible.”
Manning indeed pulled off the comeback, riding the momentum to an eventual Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears. The guy who just couldn’t seem to beat Tom and his Brady Bunch did so when absolutely nobody gave him a shot – well almost nobody.
The tables were turned in 2004 when it was Boston doing what many felt was a mission impossible. Trailing their long-time rival Yankees in the American League Championship Series 3-0, all sports fans heard about was that fun little statistic discussing how no team in NBA or MLB history has ever climbed back to win a series when trailing 3-0. As if that wasn’t enough for the Red Sox, to mount a comeback would mean mounting one against the Yankees, the team which had provided them with a lifetime of wedgies and swirlies.
With the series suddenly tied at three games apiece, I again remained confident. Perhaps biased by my New York blood, I claimed that this was all a marvelous setup, constructed by the Yankees themselves. The team had seemingly ripped out the hearts of Sox fans in every way possible, why not get creative? What better way to hurt a sports fan than by taking one who has gone from hopeless to hopeful and punching them in the stomach?
On this night, however, it wasn’t meant to be as the Red Sox destroyed the Yankees in the house that Ruth built – Yankee Stadium. It was the first and only time in my life I actually had people calling me to see if I was alright due to the result of a sporting event. It should have been a sign that I had become too emotionally involved in the world of sports, but of course it didn’t.
Life as a sports fan is filled with hard times, but it’s those hard times which make climbing the mountain worth it. And there’s no better feeling than doing it when it appears you’ve had your last chance, just ask Peyton Manning or any of the players who were forced to wear Red Sox jerseys in 2004.
A lot of people feel the Suns had their best shot at winning a championship in 202007, but a lot of people also thought Manning could never get past New England and that the Red Sox could never get past the Yankees. When the clouds are darkest are when the great ones rise – and who better to rise next season than a team which calls Phoenix home?