16 March 2016: Heartfelt farewell to two great men

Last week I indicated I would continue this week with the theme of Democrats and other clear-sighted voters being a firewall against a potential Donald Trump presidency. Instead, I will write that piece next week.

It’s appropriate to take time to do some saluting, thanking, and, as I like to say, philosophizing about two men who have moved on.

Peyton Manning’s retirement from football dominated the news a couple weeks ago. By using valuable op-ed space, I suppose I am raising eyebrows among serious observers of life who disdain professional sports for being over-emphasized in American culture. They certainly have a point, but I counter with an essentialism from ancient Greece: It must be about a healthy mind as well as body.

Participation and competition, the Greeks believed, were critical for stirring the person to achieve both. I agree we tend to overdo competition to the point that it oftentimes becomes the sole determinant of a successful person. Without getting sideways in this piece, that’s one of the objections I have to the culture personified by Trump: stark contrasts of winners and losers. Incredulously in his worldview, prisoners of war are losers.

But Manning exemplifies something totally different, something heroic for us to consider: a flawed human who never gave up neither on himself nor on his quest.

In storytelling, the epic hero, as first exemplified by Gilgamesh in Mesopotamia and Odysseus in Greece, focuses on humans who endure, who risk all and then overcome great odds to realize their quests after many trials and defeats along the way. In so doing, they become models for the rest of us “mere humans.”

After already achieving great success on the field and in the football arena, Manning was unceremoniously dumped by and booted from the Indianapolis Colts in favor of rookie sensation Andrew Luck. The backstory involved Manning having endured a number of surgeries on a most vital part of any human’s anatomy: his neck.

The Colts wrote him off but Manning didn’t give up on himself. He refused to allow himself to descend into the doldrums, and as luck would have it, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, who knows a thing or two about comebacks, immediately sought out Manning. In Denver, after persevering through challenging rehab, Manning picked up where he left off with his performance.

Until his foot did him in. Plantar fasciitis will ground the most stalwart of athletes.  Reminiscent of his dumping by Indianapolis, Bronco fans disgustingly booed Manning in the game against Kansas City after he threw four interceptions. Coach Gary Kubiak yanked him, and the team rallied over the next several weeks.

But so did Manning. He went to work, and the rest, as we like to say, is history.

When it comes to the big issues of life, sports’ outcomes pale in comparison. But they ought not to completely fade, for they can serve as avenues and models for the rest of us as we go about our everyday lives. Perseverance. Determination. Never losing faith in one’s self. Never, never giving up.

I admire people like that because so few get there. For to become that, one needs to know, in the words of Hillary Clinton, what it’s like to get knocked down. Again and again.

The other man of note here is our recently departed friend, Tom Hayden. In last week’s Courant, much print was rightly devoted to Tom as a tribute to his life. I won’t go back over that ground, but want to honor Tom for always doing his best and never, never giving up.

No one was more dedicated to Clear Creek than Tom. He and I had our policy differences, but a great respect developed between us. It was to me he confided his intention to change his party affiliation and asked if he could do it publicly on my show. Of course, I said yes, and the audio of that interview can be heard still on the KYGT website.

Two men moved on but still with us, one physically and the other in spirit. Two lives well lived.

Peyton Manning: Congratulations on your accomplishments. Tom Hayden: Godspeed on your journey. Thank you both for enriching our lives.

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