PEYTON’S PLACE – Legacy, Shmegacy

The Winter Olympics open tomorrow from somewhere called Sochi, and while some of these people and places will soon become household names, let us shift our sports focus to the very recent past.


Two Book Crossover 11.13


As you well know, Super Bowl XLVIII concluded almost four full days ago. The Seattle Seahawks destroyed the favored Denver Broncos, most of the commercials were lame, I finally know who Bruno Mars is – and can recognize his talent – and the talk about Peyton Manning’s legacy continues.


As I don’t want to belabor the first few topics, let me belabor the last one. Did the 43-8 loss – and his own mediocre play – diminish Peyton’s legacy?


Prior to the Super Bowl, Manning said in effect that he has been asked about his legacy since he was 25 years-old. It was premature then, and it’s premature now that he is a-month-and-a-half away from turning 38. I can’t disagree with his sentiment on this issue, but I’m one of those numerous idiots who can’t resist making lists and rankings of everything from NFL football quarterbacks to Halloween treats. I console myself with the observation that it’s almost irresistible for many of us to do this.


Manning plans to play another year or two, and one hopes that previous neck injuries won’t preclude him from doing so. But as of now, did Super Bowl XLVIII diminish his legacy? Well, it certainly didn’t help any. Many pundits and fans had posited the opinion that Manning would have become the mythical GOAT (Greatest [quarterback] of All-Time) if he won; four days later, he looks more like the goat than the GOAT.


So, where is the truth – well, my truth, anyway? Ranking players is somewhat subjective, although there are some objective metrics to go by. Some will still assert that Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback to ever play, and they appear to have some solid ammunition to back their claim.


In Manning’s 15 NFL seasons (he missed the 2011 season with a neck injury), he has led his team to the playoffs 13 times. He is closing in on Brett Favre’s records for most regular-season wins and touchdowns thrown, and has made 13 Pro Bowls. He has also been voted the league MVP a record five times.


Of course, every regular season has a postseason, and Manning hasn’t always played his best or led his team to its best efforts once there. This is illustrated by his 11-12 career postseason record, featuring eight different one-and-dones – eight seasons in which his team made the playoffs but didn’t advance past its first contest. For comparison, I offer former Eagles quarterback, Donovan McNabb, who got killed by a majority of fans and writers for compiling a (winning) playoff record of 9-7, with just a single one-and-done. But I digress, and I’m not asserting that McNabb’s career favorably compares with Manning’s.


Most will reduce Peyton’s GOAT status to Greatest Regular Season NFL QB, although I’m not yet ready to go there. I respect his brilliance, his longevity and the admirable second act he has written as a Denver Bronco, but I counter with two words that strike terror and disdain in the hearts and minds of Manning’s greatest fans: Tom Brady. Brady has been the starting quarterback for 12 seasons (he was injured in 2008), and led his team to the postseason in 11 of those seasons.  His career regular season record is an imposing 148-43 compared to Manning’s 167-73. Manning has led his team to 19 more wins, but 30 more losses.  Manning’s winning percentage is terrific; Brady’s is historically great.


Of course, there are so many statistics and qualifiers for advocates of these two great players (and countless others) that one can point to. Ranking players is somewhat subjective. Having written that, one also hopes that advocates of one player or another temper their arguments with as much analytical objectivity as possible.


So, what of Manning’s legacy and how Super Bowl XLVIII may have affected it? In my little corner of the world, I don’t think that Seattle’s domination of Manning’s record-setting (regular season, of course) unit affects his ranking, but it is part of his record, and eventual legacy. Everything counts: the good, the ugly and the in-between.


There is so much more to write about Peyton’s place, but in the interests of time and space, I’ll leave you with my current Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks. If you will, this list is for players that played after an all-time great (and in some old-school pundits’ minds, GOAT), named Johnny Unitas. I only saw the tail end of his career, and I also did not include great ones such as Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. Hey, I’m not that old.


10. Terry Bradshaw – Yes, he had an all-time-great Steel Curtain defense and a ground game led by Franco Harris, but he did win all four of his Super Bowl starts.


 9. Roger Staubach –  He didn’t play a full season until he was 28, but once he joined the NFL, he was remarkably good. It stinks that he did so as a Cowboy, but…I know that Bradshaw’s Steelers beat Staubach’s Cowboys in two memorable Super Bowls, but even so, I think Roger’s all-round game was better.


8.  Aaron Rodgers ­-  Talk about premature; he’s only 30, and has only started six seasons, and this last one was interrupted by an injury. Hopefully, his career is only half-over (if that). But…there is a reason that Rodgers has the best career passer rating, and second best career postseason passer rating. It’s not because he plays home games in “balmy” Lambeau Field, or has pretty good but never great) weapons and a mediocre offensive line. The guy is damn good.


7. Brett Favre – One can’t ignore the sheer greatness of Favre, because of how his career ended – with some measure of controversy, and career-prolonging near retirements.


6.  Steve Young – As with Rodgers who had to wait his turn behind Favre, Young was an understudy to another legend (Joe Montana) before finally getting his full-time opportunity to start at age 31. At that point, he had about as great of a seven-year run as anybody.


5. Dan Marino – Another candidate for greatest regular season QB, Marino (along with Rodgers) may be the best pure passer I’ve ever seen. His legacy is a bit hampered by his 8-10 postseason record, and one (losing) Super Bowl appearance.


4. Peyton Manning – Given the names I have listed above him, I don’t know if I would have moved Manning up, even if the Broncos had won. Hopefully, he still has a couple good years left. In truth, I’ve never been his biggest fan, as I always thought that he was placed on a pedestal that was much too high. Still, the NFL is a better league with him in it, and he is an all-time great and a classy guy to boot.


3.  John Elway – Elway may be the most talented quarterback of all-time: big, strong, quick enough to be elusive and with an absolute rocket of a right arm. Not as accurate a passer as Marino, but more spectacular, and a leader who took five different Broncos teams (some who were not very talented) to the Super Bowl, winning two.


2. Tom Brady – Whether throwing to stars like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski, or very average players like Troy Brown and Julian Edelman, the man knows how to win games. Period.


1. Joe Montana – If starting a team, I may go with Brady, Elway, Marino (or even Young, or Rodgers) above him, but it’s hard to argue with the success that Montana achieved. A pure winner who seemed impervious to pressure, Joe Cool was also more talented than many of us remember.





A regrettable part of the NFL legacy is the many African-American players who were never given a true shot at being a starting quarterback in the league. Many were encouraged (um, forced) to switch positions because of their athleticism, which was also a code word that implied that their intelligence and leadership skills were not up to par. Shameful.


Clearly, this started to change with pioneers such as James Harris, and African-American quarterbacks have since won one Super Bowl (Doug Williams, even though his own prime was with another team) and had a fair amount of other success. Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb have all had terrific careers as franchise quarterbacks, and the list doesn’t end there. Far from it.


Still, it was nice to see Russell Wilson – about as classy a player as there is in the NFL – win a Super Bowl. It’s great that there are so many young, talented African-American quarterbacks (Wilson, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III), and the position is becoming more color-blind. To most rational fans; excuse the oxymoron.


Wilson’s victory was also a victory for quarterbacks who are short (he’s generously listed as 5’11”, relatively overlooked (undrafted till the third round) and mobile (yes, the read-option and other derivatives can work).


Well done, Mr. Wilson!


(Matt Goldberg) is the author of five books and hundreds of eclectic, published writings. He is also available to help you craft the article, speech (and even book) that will help you best reach your intended audience. Contact him via matt@tipofthegoldberg for all inquiries.

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