Monday, February 3, 2014
Well, not really. Despite the 43 to 8 shellacking that Peyton and the Broncos received at the hands of the young, dynamic quarterback Russell Wilson and the vaunted Legion of Doom in Super Bowl XLVIII, Manning is still a first ballot Hall of Famer in my mind.
I have watched Manning's entire career (not as intently as Ron Jaworski, that's for sure). I don't claim to be an expert in football. I played in sandlots and grassy fields just like most of American men. My one foray into organized football occurred during my freshman year of high school. I was put on kickoff coverage. The coach told me to stay in my lane. What the hell does that even mean? Well, 8-seconds later, when I got hit so hard that my feet were over my head and time seemed to stand still, my organized football career was over. I later urinated in my pants, quit football forever, and dedicated myself full-time to being a student...and baseball.
I say all of this to drive home the point that I'm not about to offer any empirical evidence to substantiate my claims. The eye test tells me that I've never seen a quarterback act as much like a head coach on the field than Peyton Manning. I've never seen a player approach the game like a living, breathing chess match, where Manning dictates the moves of his team and the opponent with barking and hand gestures that would make Woody Allen look like a raving lunatic. Oh, wait...
To say that Payton Manning's legacy is tarnished by his ineffectiveness in the playoffs shows a lack of understanding of the fundamental principles of organized team sports. The strength of your TEAM is never more important than in the playoffs. By all intents and purposes, Manning played a respectable game. It's just unfortunate that he couldn't clone himself 6 times and play offensive line as well. Terry Bradshaw has 4 Super Bowl rings largely on the back on the legendary Steel Curtain defense. Dan Marino has 0 Super Bowl rings. No one in their right mind (or on the right medication) will tell you that Terry Bradshaw is a better quarterback than either Marino or Manning.
The issue of Manning's legacy is largely a product of the sport that he plays and the times that we love in. Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he appeared on Mike & Mike in the morning on ESPN. In explaining why he likes baseball over football (and I'm paraphrasing), Seinfeld said that it's very difficult to understand WHY something happens in football because of the complex play calls and formations. In baseball, when something happens, you know why immediately.
Unfortunately, Manning plays a sport where very few people understand the intricacies and nuances of the sport. When you don't understand something, you look for shortcuts to understanding. For many die hard and casual fans of football, the shorthand is wins and losses and championship rings.
Another unfortunate strike that Manning has against the perception of his legacy is the fact that no one cares about the historical stats in football. Manning set a NFL record for passing yards and touchdowns in a single season in 2013. With Googling it, can you tell me who held the record before Manning or before the guy before Manning? Don't worry, I'll wait. Now, riddle me this? Who holds the single season home run record in baseball? Whether you said Barry Bonds or Hank Aaron, the point is that you knew that one like the back of girlfriend's head.
The vast majority of this post has been about Peyton Manning and the innocuous argument about his legacy. That's not even the most important takeaway from last night's public slaughter. Leading up to the game, the talking heads on television threw out stats like 6 out of the last 7 Super Bowls had been won by offensive leaning teams. The question circulating in the bubble was, "does defense still win championships?" Still not sure? Just ask Peyton Manning.
The style of defense that the Seattle Seahawks play will be mimicked by General Managers, personnel directors, and defensive coordinators for the next 5-years. Long, lanky cornerbacks that can effectively play press coverage, safeties that are as big as linebackers but run like corners, linebackers that can cover tightends down the field and make running backs think twice about breaking through the line of scrimmage, and defensive ends that that are fast, physical, and keep offensive tackles on ice skates.
The Seahawks performance last night on defense gives me hope for my hometown Chicago Bears. Aside from removing the cobwebs from their exchequer and buying all of the Seahawks secondary, I would be content with the Bears simply copying the Seahawks formula on that side of the ball. On offense, the Bears are fine. I know, I know. We don't have a quarterback with the leadership, poise, and drive of Russell Wilson. Well, actually, we do. That guy's a free agent and may not be back with the team next year. If he is, McCown will be a backup that cantankerous QB that we dare not name for fear of the deadly sour puss face. I digress...
Peyton Manning's legacy is cemented as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, it would be nice if he had a few more Super Bowl wins out of the 3 that he's been too, but we're missing how exceptionally difficult it is to make the playoffs in the NFL, not to mention the Super Bowl. Football is a team sport, and this becomes exceedingly apparent in big games, when you don't exactly know how your teammates will react under pressure.
The big takeaway is that DEFENSE STILL WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS! Put a padlock on it and bury it for posterity. It doesn't matter how many points you score because you can't complete a pass backpedaling for your life or laying flat on your back.
Peyton Manning is a football genius, but even he still hasn't figured out which play to run to counter a punch to the face.