Peyton Manning has spent 15 years racking up video game-type numbers during the regular season (Manning also missed the entire 2011 season). He has 13 4,000 yard passing seasons, including an NFL record 5,477 this year. He has thrown at least 25 touchdowns every season of his career, including an NFL record 55 in 2013. He ranks second all-time in career completions, passing yards and touchdowns.
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The accolades have poured in: five MVP awards (two more than any other player) and 13 Pro Bowls selections, which is a record for quarterbacks. He was awarded his fifth MVP on Saturday with 49 of 50 total votes (Tom Brady received the other) after his record-breaking 2013 season. Manning has been rewarded well for his work with an NFL-record $207 million in career salary from the Indianapolis Colts and his current employer, the Denver Broncos. Manning is also the NFL’s top pitchman earning $12 million a year from partners like Reebok, Sony, Buick, DirecTV and Papa John’s.
But despite all of his accomplishments, Manning at 37 still faces critics. “Can’t win the big one” and “can’t play in the cold” are the two main disses that follow Manning around. The big game rep has carried over from his college days when he lost four straight years to Florida. In the pros, Manning had a middling 9-11 record in the playoffs before winning two playoff games last month to reach his third Super Bowl. His detractors think Manning is only at his best in a dome and point to his 8-11 record playing outdoors when the temperature is under 40 degrees. He lost two of his three games in those conditions this year.
Manning, of course, has won the big one with a Super Bowl victory against the Chicago Bears after the 2006 season with Manning picking up the Super Bowl MVP award. But detractors think Manning should have more than one Super Bowl win under his belt (he lost Super Bowl XLIV against the New Orleans Saints). One Super Bowl is the same as Rich Gannon, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Jeff Hostetler.
There have been 11 QBs win multiple Super Bowls as the starter. They are football royalty like Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw (four each); Troy Aikman and Tom Brady (three each); and others with two like Bart Starr, John Elway and Roger Staubach. Manning doesn’t even have the most Super Bowl wins in his own family thanks to brother Eli’s pair with the New York Giants. The single championship is almost a stain on Peyton’s otherwise impeccable resume relative to his competition for the greatest of all-time moniker.
Football is different than most sports. There is no consensus best player of all-time, as we see in basketball (Jordan), hockey (Gretzky) and baseball (Ruth). In the NFL, fans argue about the best of all-time at positions with guys like Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor heavy vote getters at their respective positions. But QB has always been the sport’s glamour position and the question of the greatest QB is oft debated. Montana heads many lists thanks to his quartet of Super Bowl trophies. Brady and Elway also have their supporters. Johnny Unitas and Otto Graham lead the way from the pre-Super Bowl era.
Manning was asked about the greatest ever tag by the media on Thursday. “Me and my buddies don’t discuss that,” said Manning, not surprisingly. “I feel like I could probably describe the perfect quarterback with a little piece of everybody. Take John Elway’s arm, Dan Marino’s release, I think Troy Aikman’s drop back, Brett Favre’s scrambling ability, Joe Montana’s two-minute poise.” Manning in his pitch perfect delivery then added: “Naturally, my speed in there.”
Speed is not what gets Manning into the GOAT conversation (he has a cumulative negative four yards rushing over the last six years). But what would a second Super Bowl title mean for Manning? His legacy is the biggest storyline of Super Bowl XLVIII, particularly with the weather looking more and more like a non-factor in the first cold weather Super Bowl. Does a win Sunday thrust Manning to the top of the conversation as the best? The world will be watching. No pressure Peyton.