Peyton Manning (18)

I hate when sports writers and commentators describe athletes and coaches as “geniuses” or “gurus.” To me, those words are waaaaay overused in a profession that, truth be told, relies 90 percent on brawn and beef. Genius? Gimme a break.

That said, after watching Peyton Manning tonight in his team’s amazing come-from-behind win over the Patriots, I’ll take the leap: He is a genius.

Granted, he’s a football genius, which doesn’t put him on the same table as Einstein, Edison, Churchill, etc. But to watch Peyton Manning work a football game is a beautiful thing; not all that different than watching a masterful conductor stand before his orchestra, or a playwright weave his magic.

I first wrote about Manning nearly 15 years ago, when I was working for The Tennessean and my editor, Neal Scarbrough, assigned me to break down the then-University of Tennessee star’s life. I interviewed dozens of people, met with his parents, his siblings, his coaches. What I found was a relatively dull young man who simply loved the game, and loved taking it apart, piece by piece. I’m not sure whether Manning did well in, say, calculus or biology. But when he stares down a defense from across the line, well, it makes sense. He knows what’s coming. What isn’t coming. Who tends to do this and who tends to do that.

I can’t help but think that hundreds of NFL receivers would have had completely different careers had they wound up in Indianapolis. What would Manning have done with, oh, Alex Van Dyke? Or Joey Kent? Or me?

Amazing player, amazing thinker.

A joy to watch.