For at least seven years to date I’ve argued that Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time. His playoff record might not have displayed it, but his resume, filled with awards and statistics, did. However, with the Broncos getting thrashed by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl Sunday night, I’ve finally backed-off of my stance. Manning does not belong in that conversation anymore.
In the week preceding the AFC Championship game in January, I wrote that Manning’s legacy as the greatest signal-caller ever would be cemented if he defeated the Patriots that Sunday, and the NFC Champion two weeks after that. As I wrote back then, five MVP awards and 2 Super Bowl rings would immortalize him on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. And he wouldn’t be Teddy Roosevelt on there either.
Yet, Sunday night, in a game I predicted the Broncos to win, Manning came up smaller than ever. Sure, there were many other factors in play. The Denver defense and special teams gave up 43 points. However, many of those scores can be traced back to the turnovers of the greatest offense ever. Nine of those points directly came off of Denver turnovers (two from the safety and seven from the Manning pick-six).
What shocked me further, was the extent to which Manning looked rattled. Looking back at the game a second time, it looked like Manning was playing in Foxboro, Massachusetts circa 2004-05. The similarities are shocking. Manning’s coach was out-coached by the opponent, and the defense pressured Manning and made him look like a career back-up. On the other side of the ball, the opposing quarterback took care of the ball, and made the necessary throws to win. This sounds like the Super Bowl, but also like Manning’s playoff games against the Patriots earlier in his career.
This game was supposed to be a match-up of epic proportions, featuring the most powerful offense in the history of the NFL against one of the top 10 defenses ever. However, this game was a dud. I turned the game off after Harvin’s kick-off return touchdown. There was little point in watching. There were better things to do than watch a one-sided game. Neither the game, nor its expensive commercials (I was disappointed with those too) lived up to the billing.
The other 4 quarterbacks in my Top-5 list, along with Manning, included Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, and Johnny Unitas. Every quarterback on that list besides Manning and Marino has won multiple Super Bowls or championships. In the past, I believed that there were too many factors involved to judge a quarterback by the number of rings that he had.
Would Joe Montana have won four Super Bowls if he wasn’t throwing to Jerry Rice? Would Tom Brady have won three if he wasn’t playing with Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, and Ty Law? I can’t answer those questions, but that point is moot, because one thing is clear; they’ve done it. Nothing can take that away from them.
I still believe that Manning is the greatest individual player in the history of pro football. His preparation, intelligence, and execution on and off the field is of the highest quality. However, I am equally sure than Montana wouldn’t have lost 43-8 on Sunday. Brady wouldn’t have either. In the biggest moment, Manning came up small again.
Mr. Joe Montana, you are still on top.