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Will Super Bowl XLVIII change Peyton Manning's Legacy? NFL Unfiltered: Super Bowl Edition

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Today, any ‘Best quarterback of all time’ discussion invariably becomes an exercise in comparative statistics.

That’s because fantasy football encourages fans to view the game through snapshots. Unfortunately, you lose a great deal of nuance when you don’t watch a game in its entirety.  

How many times have you been out with friends when someone asks, “Who is the greatest QB ever?”  After a few minutes of banter, you become frustrated because you thought the conversation centered on football, and instead you’re listening to saber metrics.  It frustrates you because nobody told you there would be math. Photo: USATSI

In my view, you do yourself, the game of pro football (and the men who played it before 1999) a terrible disservice when statistics are your only measuring stick.  

Of course, now that Super Bowl XLVIII is just a few days away, the most desirable narrative involves Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his gaudy numbers.  

As the story goes, Manning isn’t merely trying to win a football game. He is trying to solidify his place in the pantheon of quarterbacking royalty.  If he wins, his name is immediately placed next to the NFL’s great field generals. Top five, perhaps even top three.    

A romantic notion for sure, but it just isn’t true.  

The truth is, Manning is completing his 16th NFL season and in thirteen of those years, his team qualified for the playoffs. Yet, in eight of those thirteen seasons, they didn’t win a single playoff game.  

Imagine the current storyline if the 49ers Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson were one and done in the playoffs the last two years.  Would they receive grace from the media like Manning has the last decade and a half?  It’s hard to imagine when you consider many vilify Kaepernick despite him contributing to three times as many road playoff wins as Joe Montana and Steve Young, combined.  

In all fairness, Manning is one of the 10 or 12 greatest quarterbacks in league history, but he has flaws like every other great player.  And it’s okay to say so. 


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Furthermore, there is no way he belongs on the same tier as John Elway, Montana or even Tom Brady if you put Manning’s statistics in the proper context. 

Just as in baseball, where home run totals are often a byproduct of a hitter’s approach, (see, Rollins, Jimmy), touchdown passes and passing yards are a result of the NFL’s many rules changes.

And in Manning’s case, his incessant need to control an offense.  

Perhaps more than any other quarterback, Manning benefited from an era where defenders incur penalties for legal hits simply because they looked vicious.  For evidence, check the highlight of 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks’ and Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Conversely, Montana’s legend isn’t about stats.  It isn’t even entirely about four championships, though that helps.  

Montana’s legacy is about signature games like the one he played at Veterans Stadium against one of the league’s great defenses. Those who saw it can’t tell you how many yards he threw for or what his completion percentage was. But they know “Gang Green” beat on him with near impunity for about three hours and they know the Eagles had an 11-point lead at two stages of the last quarter. They also know he led four touchdown drives in that quarter and left South Philly a 38-28 winner.  

Do you recall any games like that on Manning’s résumé?  

Naturally, Manning’s apologists are quick to explain his below average record in the playoffs by suggesting he didn’t receive the benefit of terrific defenses throughout his career.  Or even worse, they pretend these Broncos are the best offensive teammates Manning has ever played with.  

No disrespect to running back Knowshon Moreno, but the notion he is as good as Marshall Faulk or Edgerrin James were, is pure fiction.  As for Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas, they too fall short in comparison to Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.  And it isn’t even close.  

Still, if the media has anything to do with it, this is the game Manning redefines himself. His landmark moment that erases the memory of so many playoff disappointments. The game that buries the sound bite of him blaming his offensive line like he did after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.   

Unless of course, the Broncos lose. Then, the fault lies with head coach John Fox, Denver’s defense or maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell for putting the game in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  

Either way, Peyton Manning can’t lose, as usual.  

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

 

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com  and follow him on Twitter @EMyersIII

 

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Thumbnail: USAToday

Article photo: USATSI