Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Peyton Manning's legacy takes a hit

This isn't surprising. In the moments following what was probably the most devastating loss of his career Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning handled himself with the class that has always defined him.

He signed autographs for stadium workers and corporate types. He answered questions about his team's miserable performance without losing his patience or temper. He even asked Seahawks loudmouth Richard Sherman if his injured ankle was okay.

When you're talking about grace and character, class and integrity, Manning just might be the best who has ever played the game.

But can we please forget all this talk about him being the greatest quarterback of all time?

He's not.

Another Super Bowl loss, another postseason disappointment, another big-game failure still keeps him from being the greatest quarterback to have ever played the game.

Is he a Hall of Famer? No doubt. A first-ballot one at that.

Is he the best quarterback in the game today? You could make the argument that even at age 37, he would be the top choice for your fantasy team.

Is he the greatest quarterback of all time? No. No way. Not even close.

As long as his resume lists one championship, Manning cannot be mentioned with the likes of Joe Montana, Tom Brady, John Elway, Johnny Unitas and a few others who have won multiple Super Bowls and/or NFL championships.

It's easy to use Manning as a punching bag these days, but such is life in professional sports when we look at legacy moments after games end. And right now, Manning's legacy doesn't look so hunky-dory.

Manning's favored Broncos threw a giant gutter ball Sunday, falling hard to Seattle's Legion of Boom in a Super Bowl that was every bit as lopsided as the 43-8 score would indicate. True, Manning was just one of 53 Broncos players who, collectively, had their rear ends handed to them by the Seahawks.

The way Seattle's defense played Sunday, you have the feeling that if Dr. Frankenstein created a quarterback monster with Dan Marino's arm, Steve Young's legs, Joe Montana's poise, Bart Starr's smarts and Terry Bradshaw's grit and that quarterback started for Denver, the Broncos still would have been kicked all over the swamps of New Jersey.

Still, Manning had a dog of a game. Two interceptions. A fumble. A botched snap that led to a safety. Wobbly passes. Poor decisions. No answers.

The Seahawks had a lot to do with that, but so did Manning. He picked the biggest game of the season to play his worst game of the year.

And this is hardly the first time in Manning's career that he has wilted on the big stage.

He is now 11-12 in the postseason. That includes two losses in three Super Bowls. That also includes eight one-and-done postseason performances.

Of those eight, five games were on Manning's home turf, meaning Manning's teams were the higher seed. And that means they should have won those games.

In his 12 playoff losses, Manning has thrown only 13 touchdowns, but 14 interceptions.

Again, I'm not saying Manning is a lousy quarterback. His unprecedented five MVP awards means something. He's a 13-time Pro Bowl player. He holds a bunch of passing records. He's a master at dissecting defenses and calling plays and running offenses. And, he has guided his team to the playoffs 13 times in 15 seasons.

But we can't give him all this credit for getting his team to the playoffs then none of the blame when his team falls short of expectations in those playoffs.

This isn't simply about the number of championships. Just because Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won the same number of Super Bowls as Manning doesn't mean they are in the same class as Manning. Just because Bradshaw and Troy Aikman won more Super Bowls doesn't mean they were better. Manning's brother, Eli, has two Super Bowl rings, but most would consider Peyton to be the best Manning.

But at some point, championships must matter.

Jim Kelly was a terrific quarterback of a high-powered offense. He led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls. Marino might be the best pure passer in NFL history. But neither won a Super Bowl and that's the knock against both of them.

If we're basing everything on regular-season numbers then what about Brett Favre? He is the NFL career leader in practically every meaningful quarterback category, including completions, passing yards and touchdowns. And he did win a Super Bowl. Yet, does anyone consider him to be the best to ever play? No, probably because he didn't win enough championships.

Meantime, quarterbacks such as Montana, Brady, Elway and Unitas put up sparkling regular-season numbers and managed to win multiple championships.

In the end, it's all subjective. Maybe you like Manning. Maybe you see what he does in the regular season, rolling up completions and touchdowns and putting up gaudy numbers and think no one has ever played the game better.

And, also in the end, Manning will be remembered by everyone, even his critics, as a superb quarterback, an excellent quarterback. No one would dare suggest that he isn't one of the better quarterbacks of all time.

But the best? The absolute best? I don't see it. It feels like something is missing.

Like another Super Bowl victory.

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