Every Tuesday in Touchdown Jesus, staff writers Cray Allred and Valerie Dunham engage with the popular and polarizing world of sports from a Christian perspective.

I don’t enjoy making Peyton Manning jokes anymore—not like I used to, anyway. As an avid New England Patriots fan, my spare time basically consists of two things: deflating footballs and thinking of reasons why Tom Brady is superior to Peyton Manning. But now my tone carries no angry undercurrent when I have that debate; I take no real joy in making jest of his on-field errors.

When I see Peyton Manning’s rapidly declining ability…I see a man whose flesh has failed him—whose spirit is outlasting his body—and that sight resonates with me in ways that go beyond athletics or sports fandom.

Perhaps this is because, after a storied career during which he established himself as one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Manning and his legendary career are going out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Not only is he currently fighting an uphill battle with recent injuries, but he also underwent four neck surgeries in 2011. The fact that he is still playing is an anomaly in and of itself, and since his unlikely return in 2012, he has not just been playing—he has been thriving. Manning assimilated so seamlessly to the Denver Broncos’ organization that he led them to a Super Bowl in 2013. He habitually put up unreal numbers, reclaiming his rightful place among one of the few elite quarterbacks currently playing the game. In fact, last Sunday, Manning broke the record for career passing yards. But it was a feat that was largely undermined by the fact that he was 5-of-20 for 35 yards and 4 interceptions. He was benched with only six minutes remaining in the game.

Of course, Manning’s poor performance thus far during the 2015 season in no way negates the greatness he has achieved. Few quarterbacks, if any, can run an entire offense the way Manning does, and his lackluster season is just as indicative of a system designed to accommodate the future as it is of Manning’s dwindling career.

The problem, though, is that while most sane football fans acknowledge that Peyton Manning is nearly 40 years old and playing with a body that is practically falling apart, the sour note on which he will likely end his career cannot be unheard—and it is mixing with the legendary feats he has accomplished to create an ugly sort of dissonance. It may fade with time, but until then, Manning will be regarded not with the sort of jokes bitter rivals deliver because they don’t want to admit his dominance, but with the naïve condescension of reactionary sports fans who can’t seem to remember that he was great, once. If he does manage to see his way back onto the field, we will likely regard him not as a competitor, but as a sideshow of sorts—his body a broken thing, revived just enough to attempt the same game for which he mutilated it in the first place.

When I see Peyton Manning’s rapidly declining ability, I don’t simply see an athlete whose career has run out of gas. I see a man whose flesh has failed him—whose spirit is outlasting his body—and that sight resonates with me in ways that go beyond athletics or sports fandom. I know that one day, my body will fail me, too—that we’re all inhabiting imperfect vessels that we can’t repair by sheer determination or athleticism or a legendary career.

There is something uniquely disarming in realizing that your spirit is bent toward eternity and that your body is inherently temporal—that they can never be compatible with one another in this world, and eventually you will hit the juncture at which your spirit journeys one way and your body another. For now, that juncture still feels far away from me—but as I draw closer, I feel certain that it will prod my faith in Christ in ways it is not typically prodded. Though Christian teaching holds that our physical forms are fleeting, our bodies still have been central to our identities from birth.  It is one thing to know that one day they will dwindle away, and quite another to experience it happening. Belief in something eternal inside me was easy as a child, when I grew taller and stronger—when my mind became sharper with each year. But eventually, my body will decline—and when it does, how will I reconcile the infinite nature of my soul with the finite nature of my body?

The idea is as beautiful as it is frightening—to think that God has somehow consummated this disparity is a beautiful picture of Christ’s redemptive power—but it is also so abstract and distant that it is hard to comprehend. It frightens me to think that my body will give way to time or illness, even as a redemptive work I cannot tangibly confirm is at play.

At least in one way, Peyton Manning is hitting this juncture, and it is a universally human experience that transcends football. We may not all do so on national television, of course, but each of us will hit it too, and it will raise the question: in which part of my being have I been investing my hope?




  1. Wow. What a great article. Thanks for this thoughtful approach to what really is a sad event. Fascinating to look at it through this perspective, though.

  2. All I could think as I read, “before the silver chord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken.” Ecclesiastes paints this picture of the body failing in such violently beautiful terms.

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