Peyton’s Puzzling Pitch for Budweiser Amid Thanks to 'The Man Upstairs'

Remember the good old days when star quarterbacks celebrated Super Bowl wins by going to Disney World? Those days ended Sunday when Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos revealed his post-game plans – “to drink a lot of beer.”

Yes, you heard that right. The all-American athlete once dubbed “Mr. Clean” by the hobby magazine Tuff Stuff suggested to a television audience full of impressionable youth that the best way to celebrate victory is to get drunk.

As if that public pledge from a man who considers himself a Christian weren’t perplexing enough, Manning followed it by announcing his plans to “say a little prayer and thank the man upstairs.” To recap, Manning thought of beer first and prayer second, amplifying it all with an arguably blasphemous reference to God.

As a preacher friend of mine put it on Facebook: “Not really the way I want to remember Peyton as he goes out as a legend and two-time Super Bowl winner. Ruined the moment for me.”

Christendom has been divided on the issue of alcohol consumption for two millennia, and Manning falls squarely into the pro-drinking camp. “Christians drink beer,” he wrote matter-of-factly in a joint autobiography with his father.

But even believers who agree with him, or reluctantly concede the point as a matter of judgment for discerning adults, cannot convincingly defend the kind of behavior Manning advocated. The Bible demands sobriety and self-control, and it condemns drunkenness. Downing a lot of beer moves both mind and body from the former state of being into the latter.

The sorriest part of this story, though, is that Manning probably didn’t get drunk. I saw him on the Today show several hours after the game, and he didn’t exhibit any signs of inebriation – no red eyes, slurred speech or incoherent thoughts.

Cynics think Manning’s canned post-game speech, repeated to two different CBS inquisitors, was a not-so-thinly disguised pitch for Budweiser. Although he was not paid directly for plugging the company, Manning appears to have a financial stake in it and stands to benefit indirectly from the equivalent of $14 million in free ads.

Budweiser also openly thanked him for the endorsement and hinted that it will show its appreciation with 50 cases of beer for the Broncos.

Manning is as calculated a person on and off the field as there is in the NFL,” Indianapolis sports business writer Anthony Schoettle said. “If he’s mentioning Budweiser, it’s not just because he loves the King of Beers. Besides, who really believes No. 18 feels that strongly about Bud?”

Those insights make Manning’s decision to promote celebratory boozing all the more disappointing. The young men who want to be the next Peyton Manning are only going to remember one thing: It’s cool to drink a lot of beer. And he told them that destructive lie just for the money.

Manning is still an admirable man in many respects. The tales of his compassion, generosity and humility are legendary, fueled by a charitable foundation that he established early in his career and that has distributed more than $10 million in programs and grants.

To the extent possible, Manning exemplifies Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 by doing his good works in secret, seeking an eternal reward from God rather than praise from men. And his off-field behavior is remarkable in a league whose reputation has been sullied by wife beaters, substance abusers and, yes, drunks.

But when it comes to alcohol, another Broncos quarterback, the one Manning replaced, set the better spiritual example by being a teetotaler.

“The biggest reason I don’t [consume alcohol],” Tim Tebow said in 2012, “is because [if I have] a glass of wine, I don’t want to be responsible for a kid looking up to me and saying, ‘Hey, Tebow’s doin’ it; I am going to do it.’ And then he makes a bad decision. Because, like it or not, it is serious.”

That’s why Manning should have stuck to selling Gatorade and Papa John’s pizza.