(Note from the Chief Angry Troll: Folks, we don't want to sound like we're on the anti-Peyton Manning warpath once again. In fact, for nearly a year now, we have refrained from those arguments that gained us so much attention after our founding in 2004. With that said, sometimes you come across something from the "pundits" that is so mind-numbing in its sheer, unadulterated and inexplicable stupidity that you can't help but cry out in anguish for the mental well-being of the future of football knowledge everywhere. This is one of those times when filth from the so-called "pundits" is being spread like smallpox though the blanket of opinion. It's hard for us to sit still with all of gridiron humanity under assault by a weapon of mass ignorance. Our only option is to invade and conquer with the righteous might of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.)
We thought the scourge of Spinal Manningitis was wiped from Planet Pigskin last season, after Indianapolis went down in another deep-sea Poseidon Adventure of a postseason disaster.
It was not.
As the 2006 season rapidly approaches, this mentally debilitating disease is back with us in a dangerous, mutated form. If a recent article by one noted "pundit" is any indication, Spinal Manningitis is stronger, more dangerous and more incomprehensible than ever before. It's like bird flu for the "pundits" – something we can't understand and seem powerless to stop.
But duty, honor and our patriotic devotion to Planet Pigskin demand that we stand up and fight, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Ignorance, folks, has us surrounded.
Spinal Manningitis was discussed in great detail at the start of the 2005 NFL season. This is the short version: Spinal Manningitis is a pigskin parasite that eats the backbone of "pundits," turning them into spineless frauds afraid to criticize the holiest name in football, Peyton Manning, or the almighty Indy offense.
Essentially, Spinal Manningitis causes the "pundits" to scramble to find every excuse in the book to explain the repeated postseason failings of a player who – by any statistical measure or fact-filled observance – is simply not a very good postseason player. No matter how terrible Manning and the Indy offense perform in the postseason, a victim of Spinal Manningitis will recruit an army of excuses to protect their State of Denial from an invasion by the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The disease took a terrible turn for the worse last week. The victim of Spinal Manningitis this time is one of the usual suspects, John Clayton of ESPN.com (pictured here).
In a recent article, Clayton put in a Medal-of-Honor effort, going above and beyond the call of duty to find an excuse for Manning's postseason track record. Through exhaustive research, film study and analysis, he has found the definitive answer to the mystery that has baffled pigskin-kind for nearly a decade.
The reason, according to this noted "pundit," why Peyton Manning has struggled in the postseason; the reason why his offense ALWAYS underperforms in the playoffs; the reason why Indy is the first team in NFL history to win 12 games or more in three straight seasons yet fail to reach the Super Bowl; the reason why Manning wilts like a Dust Bowl crop in the postseason pressure cooker is that...
... drum roll, please ...
... are you ready? ...
... footballs are slippery.
That's right, folks. Footballs are slippery. We couldn't make this stuff up.
The only thing standing between Manning and postseason success is a scruffy football, at least according to Clayton and ESPN.
While every other quarterback in pro or college football manages to overcome the handicap of playing with brand-new footballs, they somehow hamstring the highest-paid QB on Planet Pigskin – and only do so in the playoffs.
Here's what Clayton wrote in a recent "analysis" of the upcoming season that redefines the term "mailing it in" by a journalist. It will be hard to believe what you're reading, but these are, in fact, his exact words:
"Peyton Manning will have his best postseason thanks to the league's recent rule change that allows quarterbacks to handle the balls prior to games. This is huge. Quarterbacks won't be able to practice with them, but they'll be given game balls early enough during the week that they'll be able to rub them down and make them easier to grip."

This paragraph is so bizarre and filled with so much double entendre – Manning will be better off if he rubs his balls before the game – that it belongs on the pages of The Onion, not on the pages of your "worldwide sports leader."
But wait. There's more:
"Manning can't blame slick footballs for his poor play in playoff games, and he will have a comfort level in those games he's never had before. A confident Manning is a dangerous Manning because few quarterbacks can get on a roll as well as he can. Manning needs to get through his playoff struggles, and this little change will help."
Few writers of can pack more ignorance and more flawed, fact-less, psychobabble football "analysis" into three simple sentences than Clayton managed to do in this passage.
In fact, the ignorance is so grotesque and majestic that we can barely overcome it all with mere words. But here's our best effort:
ONE: Has Manning ever blamed a slick football for his poor performance in playoff games? Not to our knowledge. In fact, last we remember, he blamed his offensive line for his poor performance in the playoffs.
TWO: We weren't aware Manning lacked confidence in the playoffs. Last year, the Colts were 14-2, had been compared to some of the great teams in NFL history, boasted a No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs during a year in which the Super Bowl was played in a dome, fielded a perfectly healthy team and faced the 11-5 No. 6 seed in their first playoff game. They still lost. If Manning did not have confidence last year, it's doubtful a scruffy football will be the difference maker.
THREE: Wasn't Manning on a pretty sizable roll of confidence in 2004, when he set the single-season TD pass record and led the fifth-highest-scoring offense in NFL history into New England for a divisional playoff game? That confidence netted him a 20-3 loss and made him the architect of the second-worst offensive performance in the playoffs in the entire 86-year history of the NFL (when measured by the disparity between regular-season scoring average and postseason output).
FOUR: Does any serious analyst – hell, does any 8-year-old girl who plays with Barbie dolls – really believe that scruffy balls will help a $100-million professional quarterback perform better in the postseason?
Honestly, we get stories sent to us all the time by budding and, in some cases, quite accomplished sports writers that are better than this inhumane tripe. It never sees the light of day because – even if it were more cogent and fact-based than this – it would still fall far below the fact-filled standards that we demand. At ESPN.com, it gets labeled as preseason analysis from a leading "authority."
Sadly, it gets even worse.
This wasted slice of cyberspace is part of a larger article the author himself had the gall to tout as "10 undeniable truths of the 2006 season." And we thought chest-pounding arrogance was our bag. At least we bring a few trusty six-shooters of data to the dusty cowpaths of Planet Pigskin when we mouth off.
Clayton brings nothing.
We couldn't even begin to break it all down for you. In fact, the Cold, Hard Football Facts trolls have done quite a good job on it themselves, munching on the last sinewy strips of flesh left on Clayton's carcass over in the Football Forum. Suffice it to say, the entire piece is filled with Priscoisms such as:
"Daunte Culpepper continues to make his miraculous comeback from triple knee ligament surgery." – We're withholding judgment of this "miracle" until, well, you know, Culpepper actually steps on the field for an NFL game.
"Ben Roethlisberger is a good kid." – Yeah, and your point is?
Spats between Terrell Owens and Drew Bledsoe "won't create the dissension that tore up the Eagles' locker room." – Yes, this time Terrell really, really, really promises to be nice.
Remember, folks, these were not touted as "my opinions on football" but as "undeniable truths."
Clayton is one of the key NFL analysts for ESPN. He has access to every locker room in the league and to the best independent data and research that money can buy. He is held up as an expert by the largest sports media organization in the world.
It should be easy for him to put in the kind of analysis you'd expect from more diligent and accurate sports organizations such as, well, ours.
But that's not what you get from Clayton. What you get instead is analysis so bizarre we'd expect to find it on a fake news service like The Onion