Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Subplots glamorize Broncos-Ravens thriller
Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis celebrates a double-overtime victory over Denver that extended his final season.
LITTLE ROCK It was a game with two obvious story lines.
There was Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis,
whose next loss would be his final game, unless the Ravens win the Super Bowl, then the linebacker would go into retirement on the highest of notes.
Lewis, 37, has said he wants to spend more time with his sons - and the man who was once questioned about a double murder but now never misses an opportunity to quote scripture - seems to mean it.
The other obvious story line was Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
A year after being released by Indianapolis - the only team he had played for since being drafted into the NFL - the 36-year-old quarterback, who had two serious surgeries in 2011 and missed that entire season, had the Broncos and their fans on a mile high run for glory.
Lewis had a team-high 17 tackles in Saturday’s 38-35 double-overtime victory at Denver.
Manning, who is 0-4 in games when the temperature is below 40 degrees, had a good game Saturday, not a great one though, and mostly because of two throws.
He completed 28 of 43 passes for 290 yards and all 3 of the touchdowns the offense produced.
And he had two passes he would like to take back.
Which really set up the biggest story line of the game and the one that has been mostly underplayed.
Corey Graham was a fifth round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 2007 out of New Hampshire. In five seasons with the Bears, he started 10 games, and nine of those were in his second season.
In the off season, the Ravens picked up the 6-foot, 196-pound cornerback for help on their special teams.
Halfway through the season, after injuries to Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, he became a starter and finished with 60 tackles, which is a lot for a cornerback in limited action.
Saturday, he was more than a head-hunting, lock down cover man.
He intercepted Manning twice, first in the opening quarter, returning it 39 yards for a touchdown.
The last one was in overtime, stopping the Broncos and giving the Ravens the ball in Denver territory before Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard game-winning field goal.
Graham had eight tackles, giving him 15 for this postseason.
Graham’s final defensive play left Manning hugely disappointed, although it should be pointed out that long after the game Manning and his wife, Ashley, embraced Lewis and the quarterback and linebacker talked privately for several long minutes.
By then, Manning already was talking about next season, the Super Bowl in New York and how the loss would help him the next time he faced cold weather. Do not count him out either.
In his 14th NFL season, every game as a starter, he led the Broncos to 13 victories.
He completed 68.8 percent of his passes, the second-best percentage of his career, and had a quarterback rating of 105.8, also his second best, and the best since 2004 when it was 121.1.
The 11 interceptions thrown by Manning were his fewest since 2006, and his 37 touchdown passes were second to the 49 he threw in 2004.
All in all it was a better season statistically than 2006 when he led the Colts to the Super Bowl championship.
There were many who were skeptical that Manning could find his groove after two neck surgeries and missing a season. It was thought the Broncos stood to look silly giving a 36-year-old quarterback a new contract that called for him to make $18 million this season.
Instead, the Broncos got a proven winner who made people forget Tim Tebow and the seven regular-season victories he led Denver to last season.
There were several good story lines in the Baltimore-Denver game, all of them worthy of a headline.
Sports, Pages 15 on 01/15/2013