December 01, 2015

One played into the final hours of the Thanksgiving weekend, laughing when a 3-pointer that would have kept his team in the game hit nothing but air.

The other stood at the same time on the sidelines on a snowy night in Denver, watching a much younger replacement help his team find a way to hand the New England Patriots their first loss of the year.

Kobe Bryant was going somewhat willingly, finally accepting that after 20 years of long nights on the hardwood neither his body nor his team were going to miraculously recover anytime in the near future. He could afford to laugh at himself because his future is clear after years of injuries and aborted comebacks.

Peyton Manning put his best game face on, but had to know his time is coming, if not here already. The Denver Broncos seem smitten with their new quarterback, and even if Manning recovers from his foot injury there's no guarantee he will get back on the field.

Both are in an awkward dance with Father Time that neither will win. Bryant, though at least has the consolation of going out on his own terms.

It's not a bad way to end a great career. Bryant is still getting paid an NBA-high $25 million to showcase his declining skills, and his immediate future includes a trip around the league where he will surely be serenaded by adoring crowds.

It's a farewell tour he will enjoy, even if there has been little to enjoy while watching Bryant and the hapless Lakers this year.

''There's nothing I would love more than to be able to play this entire season, to go through all of these tough times, to be able to suit up and play on the road in these buildings for the last time,'' Bryant said.

For Manning, there will be no sentimental swing around the league. There rarely is in the NFL, where you're only judged on your last game and there's always someone waiting in line to take your place.

Two iconic players. Two very different sports.

A season that began with some promise for Manning went south quickly when he was sidelined with a partially torn tendon in his foot. It's the kind of thing that happens to an aging player, and there were already plenty of indications Manning was nearing the end before he was unceremoniously ushered to the sidelines to cheer his teammates on.

It got worse Sunday night as he watched in the snow when Brock Osweiler led the kind of comeback the Broncos were used to getting from Manning. It came against the undefeated Patriots in prime time on NBC, and it may have sealed Manning's fate.

Nothing personal, just the way the NFL does business. One day you're breaking the NFL's all-time passing record, the next you're wondering if you still have a job.

Tom Brady seemed to sense that when he met Manning at midfield before Sunday's game to exchange pleasantries. Instead of the customary handshake, though, Brady hugged his longtime rival.

Manning's victory lap will likely be from the bench. There's no public outcry from the Broncos faithful for him to return, and the offense favored by new coach Gary Kubiak doesn't suit his pass-happy talents.

If this is the end for Manning, he'll leave a conflicted legacy. Yes, he's the most prolific passer of all time, but with just one Super Bowl title in 18 years he doesn't even own the most rings in his family.

Manning is a certain Hall of Famer, but when talk begins about the all-time greats it starts with quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Brady. They have four Super Bowl wins apiece, while Manning is 1-2 in the big game, including a blowout loss to Seattle two years ago where he wasn't even a factor.

It's similar in a way for Bryant, even though his five NBA titles elevate him to at least being in the conversation among the top 10 NBA players ever. He will come up just short in his chase of his role model Michael Jordan, while Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will likely be rated above him by most as the greatest Lakers ever.

Still, Bryant leaves a legacy of sorts for his incessant work and the way he played with a chip on his shoulder up until the end. He also served as a role model of his own for countless other aspiring NBA players, including LeBron James.

''I wanted to be just like him, man,'' James said Tuesday.

Both Bryant and Manning had great careers, yet both wanted more. They desperately chased it even as the years began to run out and their bodies began letting them down.

In the end they, like so many before them, couldn't find a way to beat Father Time.

----

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http:twitter.com/timdahlberg

You May Like