Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: The end of a legend, a Chiefs push, and a thought about the next Mizzou coach

deulitt@kcstar.com

The end always seems to come faster than we expect.

Peyton Manning will be 40 years old in March. In the history of professional football, nobody has been selected to more Pro Bowls. Only five men have started in more games, and only one of them, Brett Favre, played quarterback.

I guess I can admit this now. I thought Manning might’ve been done as a top-level quarterback when he got to the Broncos.

He was 36 then, and coming off neck surgery. I worried about his health, even as silly as that sounds now. Manning played two of the best seasons a quarterback has ever played, in 2012 at 36, and again the next year at 37. More than 10,000 yards and 92 touchdowns, just in those two years.

He seemed to have found a cheat code for the modern NFL.

His slow feet didn’t matter much because he got the ball out so quickly. Maybe his arm strength wasn’t what it was, but he more than made up for it with his brain. He had adjusted, staying ahead of Father Time.

The Star's Terez Paylor, Sam Mellinger and Blair Kerkhoff dissect the Chiefs' 29-13 win over Denver.

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Even last year, when a lot of us thought he was deteriorating, he threw for 4,727 yards and 39 yards. Aaron Rodgers has never thrown for that many yards, and only once thrown for more touchdowns.

But Manning has struggled this year in a way that is simply stunning.

His passes float, and his decisions are uneven. Nobody has thrown more interceptions. By virtually any measure — passer rating, touchdown-to-interception ratio, or the advanced metrics of Pro Football Focus or QBR — Manning is one of the worst quarterbacks in football now. His 5-for-20, 35 yards, four interception nightmare against the Chiefs will stand as the day we all saw it fall apart.

He’s been benched for Brock Osweiler.

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The Broncos are presenting this as an opportunity for Manning to get healthy, and there is still reason to believe that when healthy, he can be a productive quarterback.

But that “when healthy” thing is less an excuse than an indication that he is effectively finished. The NFL season has a way of making sure nobody is healthy by November, and the winners and losers are often separated by the ability to play through it.

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Manning needs every bit of strength to reach the minimum requirements of an NFL quarterback — arm strength, mobility, etc. — and if he needs two weeks between games to recover then he is no longer a viable option to lead a team. Football can be cruel. Manning held off the end for so long, the story of the old man still getting it done felt evergreen.

Nothing in American sports promotes overreaction quite like football, but it’s hard to imagine Manning recovering from this, at least for more than a week or two. He is one of the best quarterbacks of all-time, and in many ways revolutionized sports’ most important position. The end is here, though, and it is ugly, because the end is almost always ugly.

This week’s reading recommendation is Brett Forest on the incredible story of the world’s biggest bookie, and the eating recommendation is the firebird duck at Blue Koi.

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

You mean my pregnant wife?

Mellinger Minute(s) starting off strong.

Depends. Am I a monster for saying neither of you will get what you want?

This season is feeling very 8-8-ish. Maybe 9-7-ish. Which, actually, is where a lot of people thought they’d be.* The mojo in the locker room is strong right now, and it should be. They’ve won three in a row, and the defense can talk about being the group that knocked out Peyton Manning. That doesn’t suck.

* I ended up thinking nine, with 10 a better possibility than eight.

If we’re talking about the Chiefs going from five straight losses to the playoffs, we’re talking a lot about the crappy remaining schedule. Maybe it’s true that the Chiefs were never as bad as they looked when losing to the Broncos (really should have won that game), Packers (when the Packers were good), and the Bengals. Even the Vikings are 7-2, though, honestly, it’s still hard to know how good they are.

But the Raiders are a good and solid team, as weird as it is to type those words, with a rising quarterback and some dangerous skill position guys. Hard to see the Chiefs sweeping them. Maybe a 9-7 team gets in the playoffs, but to be 10-6 the Chiefs can only lose once more.

It’s interesting that the Chiefs are actually running the ball more with Charcandrick West than they did Jamaal Charles. As much as they talked of wanting to take shots down the field, the Chiefs, at least to me, seem to be more conservative than last year. Maybe that’s the way to go, to maximize Smith’s strength of protecting the ball — no interceptions since September — and trying to win with defense.

There’s certainly nobody left on the schedule that the Chiefs will need to outscore, so it’s a fine plan. I just have a hard time imagining a team that lost five in a row then winning nine of its last ten.

How about Trey Hillman managing a World Series winner in which Jose Guillen hits cleanup, and is so happy that after the game he kisses his skipper on the mouth?

We talked about this on the podcast — synergy! — but walking into the stadium on Sunday, Terez and I both saw a way the Chiefs could win, but neither of us expected them to win. And, I don’t want to speak for Terez, but of all the ways I saw for the Chiefs to win, Peyton Manning Playing One Of The Worst Games For A Quarterback In NFL History was not one of them.

They’re saying Manning is hurt, and I have no doubt that that’s true, but at this point I think that’s an indictment more than an explanation. Everybody is playing through something, and if you’re healthy enough to play, you’re healthy enough to be expected to perform. If that’s the way Manning performs when he’s hurting, then the Broncos cannot count on him, and at this point, he’s probably done as an effective quarterback.

The Broncos are about much more than Manning, of course. The defense is loaded. The receivers are excellent, and the offense isn’t as built around Manning as it has been his previous three years in Denver. If Osweiler can be average — and, small sample size and all of that, but he looks pretty average — the Broncos are still probably the best team in the division.

Yes.

Particularly the Broncos game at Arrowhead, and the Bears loss. I believe the following will happen:

- The Chiefs will finish 5-2, missing the playoffs by one game.

- The Chiefs will talk about how close they were to the playoffs, spinning it as a positive, and justifiably looking forward to one more offseason to strengthen the offensive line and push for the division title.

- The Chiefs will have nobody but themselves to blame, because if you blow even one 14-point lead at home, that’s terrible, but if you blow two of them you should not talk about how close you were to the playoffs. You should talk about how you blew your chance at the playoffs.

I can’t come up with any names that haven’t already been thrown out there, and we’re all just guessing, but I do want to make one point:

The next coach at Mizzou needs to be a very secure man.

University of Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel answers questions on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, following the team’s 20-16 victory over Brigham Young University at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Pinkel has announced he is retiring at the end of the

Because Mack Rhoades can find the perfect candidate, a guy on the rise who can recruit and coach and do all the little things required of a college football coach, but if he’s at all insecure it’s not going to work. Because aside from the fire of coaching in the SEC, the next coach will be coaching in the considerable shadow of Gary Pinkel.

Pinkel, by all indications, is going to be involved with the athletic department. He will live in Columbia. So the new coach is going to take over a team recruited by Pinkel, a group of players who love their old coach, in a place where the old coach is still around, still involved, and not coaching because he was diagnosed with a manageable form of cancer.

For the right coach, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Big-time program, good fan support, lots of resources, and — again, for the right coach — Pinkel’s presence can be a positive. What an incredible sounding board. One of the questions candidates are going to have about the job is about the campus environment, the feelings that led to the threatened boycott. Who better to talk to about that than Pinkel?

But sports are full of egos, and if the next coach isn’t completely comfortable in his own skin, that could turn the other way. Coaches can be insecure, and paranoid. The right coach could be the wrong man to navigate this.

I’m more convinced than I’ve ever been that success in college sports is about fit more than anything else. Bill Snyder’s success at K-State is an enormous reason for this. He’s a brilliant football mind, and obviously a terrific coach, but perhaps above everything else, his personality and demeanor are perfect fits for the culture at K-State.

To a lesser degree, I believe the same is true of Bill Self. He checks all the boxes, but it also took a certain personality and inner-confidence to follow Roy Williams, and deal with such a demanding fan base, especially those first few years. I think of Billy Gillespie at Kentucky as an example of how it can go wrong.

Missouri is a great job, in other words. But it’s a great job for the right man, not just the right coach.

THAT’S NOT NICE.

In order:

- 0.1 percent.

- 60 percent.

- 20 percent.

- 19.9 percent.

I should say here that this is all speculation. This was part of the column last week, but the NCAA is basically giving Diallo a de facto suspension, and there is a track record of these things lasting six or seven games or so, and then the kid is cleared. That’s my best guess of what will happen here, mostly because I don’t know that the NCAA has anything tangible or credible to keep him out.

Others from the same high school have been cleared. That doesn’t automatically mean Diallo should be cleared — maybe he took different courses, maybe he doesn’t have the same paperwork saved — but it’s a decent indication. And the question about his relationship with his guardian seems strange since, ya-know, that’s his guardian.

But, mostly, I think the NCAA doesn’t have the capital to make him ineligible without a very strong case. Diallo is by all accounts a smart guy who’s doing well in school — the lawyer in the case told me he’s getting “honor roll caliber” grades. This is a public perception loss for the NCAA, and maybe that kind of thing shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Wait. Is this true?

What I think is true is that there is better team gear available now than in days of yore. Some of that is that teams have more choices available, but also, some of it is in independent companies getting creative and producing more stuff that people want to wear.

I assume it’s similar in other places, but there are just a lot of choices available when shopping for something Kansas City to wear. Maybe that’s the difference. We’re not all stuck wearing the official t-shirt, or the stadium giveaway with the big logo on the back.

Chilli. And here’s how you do it:

Three pounds hamburger (peppered and salted), one large can of tomatoes, one can tomato paste, two cans kidney beans, three jalapeños, two big white onions, one beer, bay leaves, chili powder, chili seasoning, salt and pepper, and sometimes mushrooms.

Although, I will say, a good ol’ fashioned rotel cheese dip can make a crock pot sing, too.

For the longest time, my answer was the Olympics. I know it’s an almost hopelessly corrupt system, but I’m corny enough to love it anyway, the sacrifices and work and pride that go into it for the athletes.

I’m also weird enough that international basketball is my favorite sport to watch. The international game is gorgeous to watch, and I wish college basketball would adopt most if not all of the rules. I love how teams tend to play with styles you can identify with their cultures. I love how the field has closed the gap on the Americans, and I love how the Americans have come together and adjusted and sacrificed to keep winning golds. I love everything about it. I got to do the last summer games in London, and it really was a bucket list thing for me. Especially the 100 meters.

The World Cup is my new answer. The passion and importance and grand scale are overwhelming. I’ve gotten much more into soccer in the last four, five years, which means having a much better grasp on who the best players are, and so much of what I love about international basketball obviously applies here. The Germans have their way, the Brazilians have their way. The corruption of the Olympics is clearly nothing compared to the corruption of FIFA and the World Cup, but as sports fans, I think we all know there are moral tradeoffs we make from time to time.

You know what else, though? I miss covering high schools sometimes. The energy and care you see at the state basketball final, or state wrestling tournament, or even just a Friday night rivalry game, in so many ways I think represents what made a lot of us fall in love with sports.

I stand with Cody.

The best night ever is cold, in a house filled with the smell of chilli that’s been cooking all day, a fire going, and a good game to watch on TV. I don’t even care that I’m a cliche.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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