The Legacy of Manning

SOCHI — The legacy talk in sports is really kind of silly. Of course, legacy talk filled the air — even here in Sochi in the early morning — after Seattle pulverized Denver 43-8 in the Super Bowl. The legacy talk involved Peyton Manning, of course. Everyone’s arguing how he will be remembered.

It’s silly because no great athlete — and for that matter no great movie, no great book, no great song, no influential person — has just one legacy. No one is remembered just one way. Consider John Elway. I have spent way too much time in my life doing just that. And he came up again on Sunday. At the end of the Super Bowl, FOX’s Troy Aikman somewhat passionately (and maybe a little desperately) said that Seattle’s utter destruction of Peyton Manning and the Broncos would have no impact whatsoever on Manning’s legacy. None.

Well I thought that was kind of an odd thing to say and tweeted as such. I found that at least a couple of people agreed with Aikman. Their example: Elway. Their line of reasoning: “Hey, nobody thinks of the three Super Bowls that John Elway lost big. You only think of the two Super Bowls he won.”

I have to say this opened my eyes. And here’s the reason: When I think of John Elway I ALWAYS think of the three Super Bowls where his team got crushed. That’s pretty much all I think about. The two Super Bowls the Broncos won — I chalk those up to the singular brilliance of Terrell Davis and Denver’s remarkable offensive line. Specific to Elway, I think of 39-20 (Giants), 42-10 (Washington) and 55-10 (San Francisco).

The point is obvious. I openly loathe John Elway and have ever since he and his Broncos beat my childhood Cleveland Browns in three championship games. I am driven to remember Elway the way I remember him. So, I’ll be sure to tell you: His stats are not that great (a 79.9 career passer rating!), and he was roadkill in those three Super Bowls before he got one of the most dominant running games in NFL history.

OK, look, I’m not so blind or unrestrained that I refuse to acknowledge Elway’s greatness. He’s one of the best ever. But don’t tell me those bad Super Bowls never happened. They happened. If Elway had played brilliantly in those three Super Bowls and led the Broncos to victory, he might be a near unanimous choice as the best quarterback ever. But that’s not how it went.

What is a sports legacy, anyway? It is just how people remember the athlete. That’s all. Some people DO remember John Elway as the best quarterback ever. Different people have different memories. And, even more to the point, different people have different motives as sports fans. I know three people who believe — and will argue relentlessly — that Dan Marino was the greatest quarterback ever because of the way he redefined the NFL passing game when most teams still ran the ball more than they threw it. All three of them, you will not be surprised to know, are Dolphins fans.

Then, I know more than three people who think Dan Marino cannot even be included the greatest quarterback DISCUSSION because he never won a Super Bowl. All of them, you will not be surprised to know, are NOT Dolphins fans.

What is Dan Marino’s legacy? The answer is the question. The answer is that it is what you think it is.

Peyton Manning’s legacy for Troy Aikman and millions of others will be as the most productive passer in the history of the NFL so far. Fair. Nothing Manning did or did not do in this Super Bowl can alter his genius for throwing footballs. The incredible numbers are on the books, the record five MVP awards are on the mantle, the remarkable 2013 regular season which included NFL records in passing yards and touchdowns has been logged.

But Peyton Manning’s legacy for many others carries with it a touch of failure in the biggest moments. That’s also fair. Manning’s playoff record is 11-12. His Super Bowl record is now 1-2. He threw the big interception that sealed his team’s fate in the Super Bowl against New Orleans in 2010. He could not find ways to get his typically high-scoring team into the end zone enough in memorable playoff losses against the Jets, Chargers and Steelers.

And Sunday, from the start, he was overwhelmed by the Seahawks. Make no mistake: Seattle has an extraordinary defense, and they were primed and focused, and what they did to Manning on Sunday they certainly might have done to Joe Montana, John Unitas, Tom Brady or any other quarterback in their primes. But we’ll never know that. We do know that Manning looked lost. He had led the highest scoring offense in the history of professional football and he had been named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, and he seemed to have reached another level as a passer. But he threw two crushing interceptions and could not throw the ball downfield. He had absolutely no idea how to move against the Seahawks. That was probably the most shocking part. Manning was utterly stumped.*

*The ultimate sports cliche was trotted out again and again on Sunday: Defense wins championships. I don’t believe that’s actually true. Great defense certainly CAN win championships but great offense can too. For every dominant defense like Seattle, I can point to a dominant offense like Kurt Warner’s Rams team; you talk about the great defense of the 2008 Steelers, I point to the great offense of the 2009 New Orleans Saints.

But I think there is SOMETHING to the cliche, and it’s this: We do often forget the power of great defense. Great offense is easier to see, easier to understand, easier to build up in our imaginations. I think it was easier to imagine the Broncos scoring a lot of points against Seattle because we saw them score so many points all year; those touchdowns are vibrant in our minds. So then we watch a great defense dominate the way the Seahawks’ did, and it’s jolting, it’s visually gripping, and we think: “Great defense is better than great offense. Great defense wins championships.”

And the next time a great offense comes along, we start the whole process over.

Manning had a chance Sunday to leave a bright image of himself in the postseason. It would not have made the other failures go away, but t might have overpowered them for many. That’s not what happened. Instead, he left another image of defeat burning in the mind.

So, I suspect it will come to this: Peyton Manning’s fans will downplay his postseason failings because those don’t help their argument. It’s fairly easy to do this. They’ll say he’s only one guy, his offensive line let him down, he did all he could do, etc. Even Sunday, Manning set a Super Bowl record for completions, something utterly pointless but it’s on the books and can be used later.

On the other side, Manning’s critics will downplay his extraordinary numbers and overwhelming success because those don’t help THEIR arguments. This too is fairly easy to do. They’ll just make regular season games seem unimportant, they’ll shout “count the Super Bowls,” or remind everyone how often Tom Brady won the big game, etc.

Yes, people will argue. That’s Peyton Manning’s legacy: All sides of the argument. Well, that at least is something real. People only argue about the great ones.

82 thoughts on “The Legacy of Manning

  1. Gareth Owen

    I think part of the “Defense wins championships” idea comes from the fact Defense is a collective endeavour. A team with one our two great offensive pieces – Adrian Petersen, Barry Sanders, Dan Marino – can be thought of lazily as being an offensive force, and come up short because the offense on the whole – linemen, option back, tight end – is not all there.

    A team that’s thought of being great defensively – like the Seahawks – will have all the pieces – great secondary, great pass rush, run stopping linemen, etc. without all those things, teams find a way to exploit the weakness, and you never get the reputation of greatness.

    Reply
    1. John

      I think you’re dead on. Peyton had a bad night last night, and without him, the Broncos offense collapsed. Sherman left in the 3rd quarter, but he was just one player in a collective that was greater than its parts. Great offenses often run on a single cog, while great defenses have to be more uniform.

      Reply
  2. duffsovietunion

    If I never hear the word “legacy” again, it will be too soon.

    When did everyone turn into Bill Simmons? Why does EVERY SINGLE RELATIVELY IMPORTANT GAME have to become a referendum on player X’s “legacy”? The worst example of this is probably LeBron (or Manning). The guy’s played in about 20 “this will determine his legacy” game and yet no one really knows it is.

    As for Manning, I think he’s the GOAT and I feel really sorry for him. People who talk about how much he “choked” tonight have no idea how good the L.O.B is. They made everyone look like this.

    Reply
    1. Bill Caffrey

      It’s ironic that you mention Simmons, because he wrote a whole column before the AFC Championship game about how the Manning vs. Brady legacy question wouldn’t be settled by the game and would never be settled, in fact.

      Reply
    2. Marcus

      “Legacy” became a talking point around the same time fans stopped respecting history. It’s instant history–we know without the wait, so we can close our little minds and hype this moment above all others.

      Same folks always make “Greatest Ever” lists exclusively comprised of recent athletes with YouTube clips. I hate it when they make history a whore for their own pronouncements.

      Reply
  3. duffsovietunion

    As a follow up, the best description of the game from Field Gulls (Seahawks fan site). “This game was a matchup between the greatest skier the world has ever seen and an avalanche.”

    Reply
  4. Fin Alyn

    I felt like Manning had an outmatched team, and that he realized it early. Both interceptions came from his arm being hit, and on the second, his receiver stood there like a centerfielder while the Seahawk charged the ball and took it for the interception. After that safety and then the subsequent field goal, it was almost like the Broncos were deer in headlights. The game was 8 minutes old and everybody at he party I was at, (with no Seahawk and 3 die hard Bronco fans) all felt that was it. The 5-0 lead and then the 3 and out and just watching on TV you could feel like the Broncos were confused and just out of it from that slap in teh face to start the game.

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  5. invitro

    “Peyton Manning’s fans will downplay his postseason failings because those don’t help their argument. … Manning’s critics will downplay his extraordinary numbers and overwhelming success because those don’t help THEIR arguments.”

    This is overly cynical. Some Manning fans and some of his critics are levelheaded. Sabermetrics would be dead in the water if it were true that every person that thought Jack Morris should be out of the HoF actually hated Jack Morris. And many people don’t choose their arguments before looking at the facts. But I don’t keep up with NFL criticism, maybe it is just politics.

    Reply
  6. Bob Lince

    It takes about 50 guys to win a Super Bowl, but it determines the “legacy” of only the QBs? If that’s so, it proves the idiocy of the American sports mind.

    Reply
  7. David

    I agree with a lot of the comments above – particularly that it takes a team to win the Super Bowl, yet the QB gets all the credit/blame for the result.

    My real question is: why is Tom Brady immune to this stuff? His teams have been better in the last nine years than they were in the first four. Yet, no Super Bowls since ’04. Why does no one ever say that Brady has lost his magic or that he’s a choker or that he can’t win the Big One anymore?

    Personally, I think all this legacy stuff is hooey and it’s significantly worse in football than in baseball. Nonetheless, I don’t understand how not just Joe but many other level-headed people are against Jack Morris and clutch and ask that we examine the COMPLETE body of work, not a select few games, and then just ignore that advice for Manning when it suits them. I don’t get it.

    Reply
    1. Bono

      I don’t think those are the same questions. If you asked Joe what was Jack Morris’ legacy I think he’d talk about clutch wins, consistency, playoff brilliance and the feeling that he was better than the numbers. That doesn’t mean he’s gonna vote for him for the Hall. And I believe if he were doing so for Manning or Elway he would then consider all the things he’s saying are ignored by one side or the other. I don’t take this to be a cynical approach, just an observation on the way people do this “legacy” remembering. It’s different than reasoning and it doesn’t need to be comprehensive. It says something about you besides what it says about the player or his stats and accomplishments.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Joe has talked ad nauseum about Jack’s legacy. And he talks about his durability, his consistency, and his game 7 World Series win. He talks about how the game 7 win gives a false impression of his clutchiness and playoff performance that doesn’t exist and that it colors people’s perceptions into _thinking_ he was better than the numbers. From what I’ve seen Joe has NOT written that HE feels Jack was better than the numbers. (Please correct me if I missed such a post).

        Reply
    2. Mark Daniel

      I don’t think Tom Brady is immune. People talk about it. He’s just won 3 Super Bowls already.

      The same goes for Montana. In the 7 postseasons in which he didn’t win a SB, he threw 13 TDs and had 11 INTs. Hardly the greatest performances of all time. But he has those 4 rings…

      Reply
  8. mrdardy

    A bit biased here as I spent Manning’s college years in Gainesville, FL where he was never able to beat the Gators. I have to admit that this has certainly colored my vision of him. It HAS to matter that he has had more than a full season of post-season games and that his record is below 50%. If the argument becomes all about this being a team sport, then that argument should hold for his regular season success as well.
    I also watched last night and wondered how this defense could possibly have lost a game. I felt the same way I did when I saw Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime in the post-season. It’s easy to see that a team/a defense/a coaching staff can ramp up the intensity for short bursts. This defense probably could not have played with that focus and intensity over the course of a whole season, but man were they special last night.

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    1. Steve

      Maybe a bit tangential to your point, but the NFL’s first round byes add a bit of weirdness to a team’s playoff record. Win the wild card game, lose in the divisional round and you’re 1-1. First round bye and lose in the divisional round and you’re 0-1. That doesn’t seem quite right.

      People have come up with the adjusted playoff record, where a bye counts as a win. (Sometimes they count not making the playoffs as a loss.)

      Manning’s Colts had 4 byes and 2 missed playoffs. His Broncos have had 2 byes and 0 missed playoffs. Adjusted record is 17-12 or 17-14.

      Reply
  9. Jay

    When did we start crediting qbs with wins and losses? It seems that as we are getting away from using wins/losses to evaluate starting pitchers in baseball, collective sports America is emphasizing won-loss records of football qbs. Which is ironic because football is much more of a team endeavor than baseball.

    Reply
  10. Bob Lince

    >>Manning’s college years in Gainesville, FL where he was never able to beat the Gators<<

    John Elway, Troy Aikman, and another pretty good QB named Drew Bledsoe, during different periods, started three years each in the Pac-10. Not one of them started a single Rose Bowl game.

    Reply
  11. Adam

    Joe,

    The Rams certainly got to the Super Bowl with their offfense. However, I find it hard to agree that a 23-16 win constitutes winning it with offense. They played pretty good defense that day, not to mention having one of the most famous game ending tackles in SB history.

    Reply
  12. Damon Rutherford

    This is why I’m avoiding them internets this week until the Winter Olympics start. Even Poz isn’t immune to this “legacy” bullshit.

    Even if Manning had a great game vs. an OK/sub-par game, the Broncos likely still lose. The center still snaps the ball early, Thomas (IIRC) still fumbles, the kick return touchdown, the offensive line collapsing on the edge, the defensive line not containing the edge, the defense surrendered three TDs and two FGs, and Fox had a lousy challenge.

    That first INT Manning threw was bad. His other INT and the fumbles were not entirely his fault, and his blame would be regarding taking too long in the pocket. But against that secondary, he likely needed an extra beat or two before passing. O-line failed him.

    And Manning should EMBRACE that record for number of playoff losses. His team is in the playoffs EVERY FUCKING YEAR (when he’s not out for the entire season).

    Reply
    1. nscadu9

      Peyton seems to get the benefit of the doubt in the playoffs because the blame always goes elsewhere. He never had the defence or didn’t have the offensive line. In the run up to the Super Bowl many were saying that Seattle had never seen an offence like this and Peyton had never had an offence as great as this one. I realise some of it is hype, but the greatest QB should be getting things done. On top of Bronco D not in the game, Manning made some poor decisions and over threw receivers and as Joe stated could not throw downfield. I agree the playoff loss record is overblown, but the sub .500 record is not all time great and the 0-1s for a number of those years is terrible. I keep hearing that the only reason Brady has those bowls is because of his defence. The same defence that let him down against Eli. Brady has brought those Patriots to the championship games even though he hasn’t won in a while and he brought the current Patriots with injuries and rookies as far as could be expected. Montana never looked lost in the SuperBowl and neither did Brady even in the losses. Peyton looked hopeless.

      Reply
  13. oira79

    Different question: Is Manning done? He looked done. I didn’t watch the Broncos since the first game of the season, when he looked good. This version had no arm strength. Even if there were open receivers, he usually couldn’t hit them. He couldn’t throw long. He just wasn’t a threat. Should he retire?

    Reply
    1. wjones58

      This seems to be an odd question, given he set both the TD and passing yardage records this year. He’s probably not as athletic as he was at age 25 or 30, but one does not lead such a dominating offense if one is “washed up” or “done”. He did throw a lot of short yardage passes yesterday, but my take is that he wasn’t given much else by the defense. But one game, vs. leading the NFL in points, is not enough to convince me that he should retire. Two weeks ago he beat a pretty fair QB and one of the greatest coaches in history.

      Reply
    2. Damon Rutherford

      “This version had no arm strength.”

      Disagree. He might not have the laser rocket arm any more, and Luck and others would destroy him in a speed contest, but he can still take shots down field. I even think he over threw a receiver last night on a long pass.

      But even with an average arm, Manning’s knowledge of the game, his accuracy, timing, avoiding the sack, play calling, etc. will permit him to play for at least one, maybe a few more seasons if he wants to *and* his neck/spine/back is medically cleared.

      Reply
  14. Hal 10000 (@Hal_RTFLC)

    “Great offense is easier to see, easier to understand, easier to build up in our imaginations. I think it was easier to imagine the Broncos scoring a lot of points against Seattle because we saw them score so many points all year; those touchdowns are vibrant in our minds. So then we watch a great defense dominate the way the Seahawks’ did, and it’s jolting, it’s visually gripping, and we think: “Great defense is better than great offense. Great defense wins championships.””

    Exactly. We all remember the great offenses that failed to win the championship, but forget the great defenses that failed to. I remember the Saints, in the early 90′s, had a top-notch defense that couldn’t win anything. Or the year the Steelers went 15-1 on the back of the great defense and didn’t make the title game. Whenever the top offense fails, we know about it (16-0 Patriots, etc.). but when a top defense fails, we don’t even notice.

    Reply
  15. Duke Marquis

    Four random thoughts:

    1. Eli has 2.

    2. I wonder if there’s a correlation to Michael Jordan and his learning to play team ball before they became NBA champions.

    3. Elway in his current position sure can’t say much against Manning or else he would condemn himself. His defeat at the hands of the 49ers was even worse.

    4. I despise Elway in much the same way Joe does. I utterly despise him for being drafted by the Baltimore Colts and refusing to accede to the draft. Who knows, perhaps if he had become the Colts quarterback, they might have won, and the Colts would still be in Baltimore where they belong.

    Reply
    1. Mark Daniel

      I agree with #4. I always hated that about Elway. I hate that about Eli Manning as well, since he more or less did the same thing to the Chargers.

      Reply
      1. Ed

        I know Eli has two Super Bowls (and for some people that’s the only measure for a QB), but I think that worked out better for the Chargers. I think Philip Rivers has been a better QB than Eli over their careers, and I don’t think it’s really even close.

        (I realize that’s not your point at all… just made me think of that)

        Reply
    2. adam

      I’m sort of conflicted about point 4. On one hand, almost everyone accedes to the draft and thus those who don’t are being difficult, prima donnas, etc. I get that.

      On the other hand, the concept of a draft is one of those things that happen in no other industry besides sports. Would you want to be told who your employer will be for (essentially) your entire career? I wouldn’t. So why should John Elway have to be told that? He’s basically being punished for being awesome at his job.

      Reply
  16. Mark Daniel

    Defense does win championships. Or at least it used to. I think that’s why everybody keeps saying it.
    In the first 40 Super Bowls, every team except one was ranked in the top 10 in defense (by points allowed). The one team outside the top 10 was the ’83 Raiders (#13).
    Of those 1st 40 Super Bowl winners, 28 were ranked in the top 5, and 12 were ranked #1.

    Super Bowl 41 was when the Colts and Peyton Manning won, and the Colts were ranked #23 in points allowed, by far the worst points allowed ranking of any SB winner up to that point.

    Of course, maybe things have changed. In the 8 Super Bowls since 2006 (including Indy’s victory), 5 winners had points-allowed rankings outside the top 10. Here they are (year: team, defensive points allowed rank):
    2006: Indy #23
    2007: NYG #17
    2008: Pit #1
    2009: NO #20
    2010: GB #2
    2011: NYG #25
    2012: Bal #12
    2013: Sea #2

    I think analysts were right to say “Defense wins championship” in the past. Not so sure about now, though.

    Reply
        1. John T

          One could also point out that last year San Francisco was #2 in the league in points allowed, then in the Super Bowl gave up 34 points to a team that was barely a top-10 offense, and nothing was said about how “defense wins championships.”

          Reply
  17. bellweather22

    The argument that quarterbacks “win” games, seems similar to the argument (now dismissed by this site) that pitchers win games. Both pitchers and QBs DO have a diproportionate impact on their games, but there are many other players on the field that influence the game. Yesterday, his teammates did not block, catch, run routes, tackle on defense or special teams… or pretty much anything. It was a team loss, of which definitely Manning had a larger part than most. But if the team blocked well, receivers got open, centers didn’t snap the ball before the snap count said to, special teams didn’t allow a TD on a squib kick, and the defense got some stops, then Manning may have had a chance. But he really didn’t. Football is even more of a team game than baseball, where a pitcher giving up 7 runs on 3 HRs CAN be blamed for a loss. Even interceptions are a product of protection, route running, defensive scheme and the throw. Still, it doesn’t help Mannings case to be on the losing end…. but remember, Steve Young only won one championship & laid his share of eggs too. Then Young himself sits pompously at the pre/post game commentary desk and judges QBs to standards he himself never lived up to.

    I’m not a Dolphin fan, but I can make an argument for Marino being GOAT. His teams had no real running game for much of his career and his receivers were more a reflection of Marino than the other way around. But, he only got to one Super Bowl, which was a competitive game. You need a really good team to win a Super Bowl. The Dolphins were pretty lacking in that department most years of Marino’s career. He turned conservative Don Shula into a pass maniac. Why would Shula have changed? He didn’t change for Bob Griese or anyone else. Just for Marino his conservative approach had to be changed.

    Reply
    1. Jay

      Agreed.

      I was trying to recall when the idea that QBs won/loss records became elevated tot he point that it is today. I am about the same age as Joe, and I don’t remember, when it cam to comparing quarterbacks in the 80s, on the same emphasis as is used today about how many games, playoff games, championships that a quarterback “won” or “lost.”

      Retrospectively, we hear that all the time: Montana > Marino > Fouts because of playoff wins/Super Bowl wins etc. But I don’t remember hearing the same noise when those players were active. For example, I don’t remember the sportswriters of the day saying that Bart Starr was better than John Unitas because he “won” two Super Bowls and four NFL championships to Unitas’s two wins and two losses.

      Maybe it’s just something to fill the air and the internet.

      Reply
  18. wordyduke

    How important were the two half-opening plays?

    1. Bad field position from a short kickoff return, then the safety. That puts the Broncos ahead, and worse, it lets Seattle start its first offensive series from their 36. Wilson and Co. have less pressure than if they came in down 0-7 or 0-3, and they move the ball well enough to take the lead to 5-0. The point difference isn’t much, but starting out with the lead and a successful first series has to make the Seahawk offense into a comfort zone.

    2. Denver’s short kickoff. You can’t declare that the second half is going to be different when you give up a touchdown on its first play.

    Reply
  19. Simon

    I think it also needs to be mentioned how terrible the Broncos defense has been. They needed Manning to be great every game to have a chance to win, his defense was never able to give him a chance on a night where he didn’t play to his regular level. This team was all about one guy and in the end I don’t think most people are surprised they didn’t win the Super Bowl as they were not the best team.

    Also if we are discussing players legacy or retirement, what about Champ Bailey? He was awful last night and hasn’t been all that good for a couple years now. People seem to let it go cause of the great career he’s had but it is time for him to move on.

    Reply
    1. adam

      With all due respect, I think it’s up to Champ Bailey when to decide to move on. Or his employers if they cut him. I don’t think Champ Bailey tells you when to retire from your job.

      Reply
  20. Marcus

    I know I’m being a jerk, but Elway and Fox were SO sure that Manning was their ticket to the promised land. Ultimately he was one game better than Tebow.

    Reply
    1. Damon Rutherford

      That’s ridiculous. IIRC, the Broncos D that season with Tebow was very good. This D was average at best, and perhaps not even that after the key injuries.

      The Broncos D last stopped the run … when it was Lynch running. But they couldn’t stop Harvin and Wilson. And, of course, they had little pass rush and the secondary didn’t do any thing. They didn’t force a turnover, and their 3rd down success rate was dismal, and even when they did stop ‘em (those two FGs early in the game), it was very close.

      Manning and this offense with the D from two years ago? They would have likely been able to complete with Seattle.

      Reply
  21. Pingback: Does Defense Win Championships? « Mike's Meandering Mind

  22. tombando

    Wow. John Elway hurt your feelings pretty bad back in the ’80′s didn’t he Poz? Yeah blame #7 for those three blow outs. Don’t bother, say, Reeves or Dennis Smith or Atwater or Sammy Winder or Karl Mecklenburg or whatever.

    Pay no attention to how well he played in the last game of his life in ’99 vs. the Falcons either. Something about him getting the MVP? Oh yeah.

    This is instructive in looking at how you rate the top 100 baseball players, more so than you care to know.

    Maybe if Kosar hadn’t decided to start panicking and throw to Jimmy Ryan or if Dixon and Minniefield hadn’t forgotten to cover Mark Jackson a few times, you guys may have had the honor of getting bludgeoned by the Giants, ‘Skins and Niners. You’ll never know.

    Two words: Jeremiah Castille. You’re welcome.

    Reply
  23. bellweather22

    Elway did have more than one implosion during Super Bowls, especially that game against the 49ers. But looking back at the personnel, the Broncos were not near the team that the 49ers were at the time. So, the result was fairly predictable and in the same way as yesterday, not the QBs fault (although Elway was awful). Good teams win, and unfortunately, sometimes teams have bad games at the wrong time.

    Elway just had the benefit of two championships in his last two years. It’s a nice way to go out. Not many have the opportunity to do it that way…. even though Terrell Davis and the O-Line had a lot to do with those championships. Hell, Kurt Warner had Marshall Falk and Orlando Pace. Both HOFer level players. He doesn’t win without both of them. What did Manning have? Knowshawn Moreno and Louis Vazquez? Good players…. but….

    Reply
  24. Clear and Present Menger

    Ceteris paribus, people will tend to remember more what you have done more recently. Most people remember Elway for his Super Bowl wins because they came at the end of his career and so that became our lasting memory of him. He went out in a blaze of glory. What if his career had gone the opposite way? Suppose the Broncos had won two Super Bowls in the 80s and then in Elway’s last years, they got pummeled in the Super Bowl three times. Would we still remember him the same way? He would still be seen as a great QB of course, but I feel as if the perception would be different.

    Favre had a career that went sort of like that. Most of his triumphs came in the first seven years of his career. He won one Super Bowl, came close to two in a row and won a bunch of MVPs. After that, he sort of went down a level and never consistently reached those heights again. Then of course, late in his career, he threw a couple of memorable interceptions in championship games and I think when a lot of people think of Favre’s “legacy” now, those low points are what stick out.

    For me, “legacy” talk when it comes to athletes is silly and circle-jerky at best and it devolves into outright nonsense when it involves players who are still active. Peyton Manning just had a historic, record-breaking season at the age of 37. Barring serious injury, I would imagine he could still easily play another five years at a very high if not prodigious level. If things go right, he could easily pull an Elway, win a couple more titles and go out on a high note and all of this “big game failure” talk would be muted if not forgotten. These perceptions can change on a dime. At one time, Michael Jordan of all people was considered a guy who couldn’t win the big one. Who knows or cares what Manning’s legacy will be?

    Reply
  25. Ryan Evans

    This is ancient history so it’s rarely relevant to bring up in and of itself, and when I hear it mentioned in passing on something like a sports talk radio conversation, but when a true historian like Joe specifically brings it up in a related tangent I’m compelled to respond.

    It’s lazy retroactive narrative reliance that posits that John Elway played poorly in that first Super Bowl against the Giants. Facing the #2 defense in the league (only behind the points against record setting ’86 Bears), coached by one Bill Belichick, and spearheaded by the MVP of the league in Lawrence Taylor, Denver’s first half drives looked like this:

    Drive 1: 45 yds, FG
    Drive 2: 58 yds, TD
    Drive 3: 74 yds, missed 23 yd FG (three straight runs are stymied by the Giants D after 1st & goal at the 1)
    Drive 4 -15 yds safety (sacked in end zone)
    Drive 5: 49 yds, missed 34 yd FG

    So in a first half where they had a great chance to be up 20-7 or 20-9, they are only up 10-9, against a clearly more physical and overall superior opponent.

    Cut to: two subsequent Super Bowl blowouts, where Elway played worse (had moments in the 1st quarter of the Redskins game, but a mistake filled performance afterward to be sure, and a terrible performance against SF in a complete mismatch), and the narrative is that he sucked in 3 straight SB appearances.

    Haha, I don’t even know if I have a huge point here, other than conflation is annoying…

    Reply
  26. bl

    Manning’s fans love to have it both ways. When his teams do well, he wins the MVP, he wins the Sportsman of the Year, he gets all the credit because he’s such a student of the game and a great leader. When his teams do poorly, it wasn’t his fault, his team let him down, he did the best he could. This is so riduculous.

    Also, the question of Brady not getting any heat for losing the big game is equally insane. If Brady didn’t get heat for losing people wouldn’t be so eager to rank Manning over him. Think how much less credit Brady gets for winning than Manning get, because Brady has Belichik. Also, the reason Brady shouldn’t get as much heat for losing is because he never flames out as marvelously as Manning does. Brady’s super bowl loses were close games where the Patriots led late. Brady has never lost a game in the first quarter the way Manning can.

    Reply
    1. David Runyon

      “Manning’s fans love to have it both ways. When his teams do well, he wins the MVP, he wins the Sportsman of the Year, he gets all the credit because he’s such a student of the game and a great leader. When his teams do poorly, it wasn’t his fault, his team let him down, he did the best he could. This is so riduculous.”

      Maybe that’s because people besides you examine the game on a deeper level than just wins and losses?

      Reply
    2. Damon Rutherford

      Manning’s fans aren’t giving him the MVP and aren’t handing out Sportsman of the Year awards. At least for me, I am simply a fan of Manning and his career and want him to enjoy success, which then makes me happy, because I’m rooting for him.

      But I will admit other QBs playing for Denver this season with Thomas, Thomas, Decker, Welker, Moreno, etc. likely would have had excellent seasons as well. The MVP was given to Manning, but that entire offense deserves it.

      Reply
    3. duffsovietunion

      I don’t think it’s having it both ways. Plenty of people have been saying all year (and further back) that Manning’s receivers are overrated and crumble against physical pressure, that his running game only works when the defense is playing the pass and sometimes not even then, and that his line is ok but nowhere near as good as they look because he gets the ball out so fast. Oh and his defense kind of sucks too. I count one player (Von Miller) who could have started for the Seahawks last night and one (Chris Harris) who could have got on the field as a nickel back and neither of them were playing! I just found it absolutely staggering that so much of the money was on Denver this week to the point where they started favourites. I bet Seattle -14, but so many people disagreed with me that I thought maybe I was missing something.

      Seriously, how many players / positions are Denver better at than Seattle besides quarterback? I’d actually take Seattle’s receivers (assuming Harvin is playing as he was last night) over Denver’s, fantasy football stats aside. Denver has a better o-line but not by that much (if you switch Manning and Wilson, I bet the perception of their respective lines switches as well). Seattle has a better running back and they’re better everywhere on defense and special teams.

      Seattle with Manning has the best offense in the league and are a genuine 19-0 threat even in the NFC West. Denver with Wilson are probably about a 9-10 win team. And Wilson is above average!

      I don’t see why it’s having it both ways to say that Manning makes this team so much better than they otherwise would be and that his teammates aren’t up to his level.

      Of course Wilson looked better than Manning last night. He was playing with similar teammates and against WAY worse opposition.

      Reply
    1. bl

      Boy, you sure told me. That’s how you look at the game more deeply. Afterall, Manning set a record for completions in the Super Bowl yesterday. He must have played well.

      Stats without context are meaningless.

      Reply
  27. Dark Side of the Mood

    When I think of John Elway I think of the three SB defeats, his highly irritating way of slipping out of a sack (usually DT) and completing a throw downfield, and the two terrible calls that gave the Broncos a win over the ’97 Chiefs team that I thought might actually get KC back to the Super Bowl.

    Reply
  28. Michael Green

    About defense, let me talk about a far better sport, baseball. Joe McCarthy told Mel Allen when he started broadcasting for the Yankees in 1939 and was getting to know the team that everybody talks about “murderers’ row” and the teams’ great hitting. Forget that, he said. We win by having a great defense and great pitching, and that combination makes the other team crack and make mistakes, and that’s when we roll up the runs.

    Reply
  29. kgsmyth55

    I think we’re questioning the wrong person’s legacy. The Denver Broncos were assembled to win the AFC championship, but not compete effectively in the Super Bowl with any of the top NFC teams–Seahawks, 49ers, Panthers, Saints, heck even the Cardinals and they didn’t win anything. All of them have tough, tough defenses, while the AFC teams have their pinball offenses. No secret. These teams weren’t assembled behind closed doors.

    So who helped put together the Manning led Broncos? Back to John Elway. Manning is a fine quarterback who wasn’t given the pieces he needed to win. Peyton Manning doesn’t play defense, he doesn’t play on special teams, he doesn’t pass and run block, and he doesn’t catch his own passes.

    You can’t score with Cliff Avril sitting in your lap on every play. He didn’t get much help, did he?

    Kevin-a Seahawks fan.

    Reply
    1. Damon Rutherford

      If the Broncos were a bit luckier and didn’t lose Dumervil on that technicality and didn’t lose Miller and Harris to ACL injuries, I think they, too, would have had a tough, tough defense for the Super Bowl.

      Seahawks were awesome, but unless I’m forgetting a key injury/loss other than Browning, they were fairly healthy entering the game with the O-line and Harvin being close to 100%. If Harvin stays healthy next season, they are going to be excellent.

      Reply
  30. Herb Smith

    I’m from Tennessee, which means that Peyton Manning is a large figure in my sports prism. Before the Titans moved to town, the TN Volunteers were the only game in town, so I got to see the whole “Manning show” while he was a college stalwart. And honestly, the basic ingredients about the man and the player have not changed one iota.

    Even then, he was magnificent against poor teams, damned good against good teams, and always sharp, crisp, and well-prepared. At the time, the Big Cheese in the SEC (and all of college football) was Florida. And against those Gators, Manning sucked. Repeatedly.

    Every year, he put the Vols within spitting distance of a national title, but every year he’d come up short. Maybe this kind of player really IS who he is.

    FWIW, he also had the rep for being a good guy; modest, helpful, pleasant, hard-working, decent. He was so well-liked that many Tennessee football fans cheered for him the entire time he was at Indy, despite the Colts being division rivals with the Titans. You WANT to root for him.

    But it’s disingenuous to pretend that he doesn’t have a fatal flaw.

    Reply
  31. DJ MC

    The two things that Baltimore fans and Cleveland fans can agree on:

    1) John Elway is the Devil.

    2) Boog Powell could NOT pull off a monochromatic, polyester baseball uniform.

    Reply
  32. Zach

    His legacy is simple. He is the absolute best at piling up regular season stats. And, he is also the absolute best at losing playoff/super bowl games. Peyton defenders can’t have it both ways either. Peyton is praised for his singular genius in being able to essentially be his own coordinator, design his own offense, call his own plays at the line, always find flaws in the D, always find the open receiver etc.. But when he fails repeatedly in the games that truly matter, they blame his O-line, they make the most assinine assertions (see duffsovietunion post re: seattle wr’s > denver wr’s above) blaming his revolving cast of pro bowl/hall of fame receivers for being soft or running lazy routes, or complain that his defense isn’t championship quality etc.. This much is obvious, Peyton chooses and always has chosen to run a finesse timing offense that features him and a cast of offensive all-stars putting up the biggest numbers in history. What’s less certain, given the sustained failure of that approach in the post-season, is whether or not it’s more important to Peyton to…well – win. Numbers or titles? Fifteen years into his career, Peyton is more Marino (unfortunately for Dan, he had to play Montana instead of Rex Grossman) than Elway. And in case you weren’t sure – that’s not a good thing.

    Reply
  33. Mike

    Just think if Rex Grossman even played an average game against the Colts in the Superbowl, Manning would be 0-3. Then he would be considered a glorified Dan Marino/Jim Kelly.

    Reply
    1. duffsovietunion

      “Then he would be considered a glorified Dan Marino”.

      LOL. How could Manning even look himself in the mirror if all he was is a better version of Dan Marino? Such professional shame could drive a man to suicide. The fact that you apparently think Marino and Jim Kelly are the same QB doesn’t speak highly for you.

      As for my “asinine” comment about Denver’s wide receivers, who thought any of these guys were good before they played with Peyton Manning? Anyone who’s watched Denver all year knows that pretty much all of Thomas’ production came against soft coverage on underneath routes / screens and he never did much of anything against aggressive man coverage (you know, like what he was playing against yesterday? And don’t tell me he had a good game. He didn’t.). Decker is also notorious for his lack of physicality. Give Manning Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to throw to and I bet they’d look a lot like Thomas, Decker and Welker. Except better.

      Speaking of asinine, do you really think Manning “played Rex Grossman” in the Superbowl? Did you see Manning and Grossman on the field at the same time? No, he played the top notch Chicago Bears defense. And he beat them.

      “Peyton chooses and always has chosen to run a finesse timing offense that features him and a cast of offensive all-stars putting up the biggest numbers in history”.

      I think you just described the Montana / Young 49ers. Yeah, I know, “THAT’S DIFFERENT”.

      Reply
  34. duffsovietunion

    “Fifteen years into his career, Peyton is more Marino (unfortunately for Dan, he had to play Montana instead of Rex Grossman) than Elway.”

    Fifteen years into his career, Elway was considered a loser who didn’t have the (heart, skill, courage, leadership, whatever) to win a Superbowl.

    In fact Elway was considered such a loser that when his team did make the Superbowl in his 15th year (after seeing his completely overmatched team get decimated in his previous 3 appearances through no real fault of his own), Vegas made his team 14 point underdogs against a team that, based on the regular season, they were every bit as good as. Yes, Vegas, acting on the thoughts of the gambling majority, thought the legendary herochampionwarriorking John Elway was such a loser that he was basically worth -14 points in a big game.

    People are dumb. Narratives are stupid. How you play in the postseason in the past says nothing about how you will play in the postseason tomorrow. And yes, the quality of your teammates are really important and it’s not “making excuses” to point that out.

    Reply
  35. Zach

    There is just so much dumb in your posts, that I’m not sure where to begin.. Fifteen years into his career, John Elway was the defending champion of the league. So, ya know, you may want to go and edit your post, change it to the first 14 years or whatever.. Also, as for being 14 point underdogs – they were playing the younger, defending champion Packers who had a better record and more decisive playoff victories. Not to mention, the AFC hadn’t won a Super Bowl since Marcus Allen carved up the Redskins way back in Elway’s rookie year. Picking against the dominant NFC teams really hadn’t been a smart play for well over a decade.

    As for Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.. What had they done before Peyton came to town? They had each played two seasons in Denver after being drafted in the 1st and 3rd rounds of the draft, respectively. Thomas had missed 11 games those first two years due to injury, and Decker had also fought through injury his rookie year. When they were on the field, they were run blocking for Tim Tebow. Seriously, look it up, the Broncos beat the Chiefs with Tebow only completing two, count ‘em, two, let me say it again, two, (granted, one was a 56 yd backbreaking TD to Decker) completions the entire game. And, not to be completely unfair to Tebow, he did, as I’m sure you remember, complete a sudden-death 76 yd game winning TD to Thomas to win a playoff game against the Steelers. Thomas had nearly 300 yds against the Steelers and Patriots in his first career postseason appearance with Tebow throwing him the ball.

    You are the only person in America who would rather have Seattle’s WR corps. It is certifiably stupid.

    Not to mention, Peyton threw 70% of his passes in this record-breaking/setting season no further than 10 yds down the field. Half of his all-time record passing yardage came after the catch. It’s not that Thomas didn’t do anything against press coverage, it’s that he wasn’t asked to. Peyton doesn’t want his receivers getting jammed, so they run bunch formations, screens, pick plays, etc. Sherman is on record as saying that they were coming up and jumping the routes that Denver had run all year, and that Peyton never adjusted, never tried to beat them with double moves. He said they left themselves vulnerable but Peyton never attacked it. Don’t blame the WR’s for running their routes on the same pick plays and bubble screens that were being sniffed out all night long. Blame Peyton and Gase for not adjusting.

    Reply
    1. duffsovietunion

      OK fine, make it “14.95 years into his career, Elway was considered a loser who was incapable of winning a championship”. That changes everything.

      Look, the math on Manning is pretty simple. When he joins a well below average offense (Denver), they become the best offense in the league almost overnight. When he leaves a top 5 offense, they become one of the worst offences in the league almost overnight. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if you gave him an offense that is already top 10 (Seattle) they would be the best offense in the league. There is no other quarterback who has anything like that impact on their team. The Saints offense improved markedly with Brees, but they had a lot of other upgrades too. The Patriots didn’t lose that much without Brady.

      The reason Manning keeps losing in the playoffs is simple. He puts teams that have no right to be there in position to lose in the playoffs, as opposed to others who just don’t make it.

      Look, I’m not a Broncos or Colts fan. I respect the hell out of the guy and I still gambled heavily against his team last night. Because while Denver had a big edge at roster spot #1, Seattle had an even bigger edge at roster spots #2-46. Pretty simple.

      And Manning played very well in the Bears SuperBowl. Even before you take the quality of the Bears defense into account, he was a bit above average. And the reason they ran so much was because the Bears were basically daring them to, they were so afraid of Manning beating them. I agree that the defense was more important to the win, but there wasn’t a standout individual there, so Manning won the MVP. He was probably the best choice. It certainly wasn’t one of the running backs.

      Reply
  36. Zach

    Also. Just for the record go check out the drive chart and boxscore in Peyton’s only Super Bowl victory. After watching Hester take back the opening kick, Peyton was picked off on the first drive of the game. A couple of possessions later, Peyton fumbled it away to the Bears again. Lucky for the Colts, the Bears offense was the very definition of ineptitude as Grossman fumbled away two possessions himself in that first half. Later on, early in the 4th quarter, with the Colts clinging to a 5 point lead, the Colts defense pick-6′d Grossman to put the game away. They picked him off again the next possession too, just to make sure the coffin was sealed tight.

    Meanwhile, Peyton handed the ball off 40 times to Rhodes and Addai for a combined 190 yds on the ground. Rhodes went for over 100 yds and a TD. The defense caused FIVE turnovers, including a pick-6. Yet, somehow, Peyton was named the MVP..

    Reply
  37. KB

    I think most of the GOAT talk is pointless because it always leaves out two names: Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham. Baugh put up numbers that would look good today in an era when the football was essentially an oblong medicine ball and pass interference was non-existant. He won two titles and in 1945 had the second highest completion percentage ever in a season. That includes guys named Peyton and Drew throwing with all the rules at their back and they don’t complete as many passes as Slingin Sam did that year. And on top of that he also was the best DB and best punter of his time, setting records at those positions that have stood the test of time.

    Now lets move on to Otto Graham. He played in an era of neophyte offense and put up numbers what would be respectable today. But if Joe Montana is the gold standard then Graham must have been platinum. Joe won four titles in four championship games. OK, pretty good. Otto Graham played ten seasons of pro ball. In those ten seasons he played in ten (not a typo, ten with a “T”) championship games, winning seven of them. No American pro football QB has won that many titles or played in that many title games. OK, but five of them were in the AAFC, supposedly inferior competition. Well, that was what everyone said in 1950 when the Browns joined the NFL. What did Graham do with that? First NFL game he beat the defending champs 35-10 on their home field. He went on to go 12-2 that season, winning the NFL title. If Graham and the AAFC were so inferior, then what was the rest of the NFL’s excuse in 1950?

    Reply
  38. Pat

    Apologies to George Carlin, but this might be the real difference between football and baseball. Ted Williams never won a World Series, but no one—absolutely no one—thinks that made him any less of a player. Yet in football, the championships loom so much larger when evaluating the individual players (or maybe it’s just the quarterbacks).

    I’m not sure I have a good sense yet which is the better way to think about it. Just noting for the record.

    Reply
    1. duffsovietunion

      “Ted Williams never won a World Series, but no one—absolutely no one—thinks that made him any less of a player.”

      That’s just proof that baseball fans are smarter than football fans.

      Reply

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