Peyton Manning might be playing in his last game this Sunday, win or lose he’s cast a large shadow over the NFL and Indiana.
Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time. This really shouldn’t be much of a debate either. He holds the records for passing yardage and touchdowns by a significant margin. He’s won more awards than anyone else and has, at times, carried his teams into the playoffs when they had no business being there.
Far too often we judge greatness based on rings (or RINGZ). We forget how difficult it is to make the postseason in the NFL, let alone the Super Bowl. Every year we hear about how hard it is to repeat as champions and we see the numbers on teams who made the final game, only to fall short of qualifying for the playoffs the next year. Everyone seems to agree that winning a Super Bowl is incredibly difficult, yet will criticize Manning for not winning more than one.
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For his entire career, the bar for Manning has moved a notch higher with each milestone. It is a product of his personal success, the success of his competitors, and the high expectations that have followed him everywhere he’s gone. For the longest time it was “can’t win a playoff game.” Then “can’t make it to the Super Bowl.” And now it’s “can’t win ANOTHER Super Bowl.”
Has there ever been greater pressure on another player in the history of the game? Another individual with such lofty expectations from the public?
Manning’s brilliance is often mired in the postseason “failings.” The simple fact of the matter is that no one in the history of the NFL has played the position of quarterback as well as Manning.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s won five MVP awards, two more than any other person to play the game. Manning has been named to the First-Team All-Pro roster seven times, again more than any other player.
In his entire career, Manning-led teams have only missed the playoffs twice: 1998, his rookie year; and 2001, with a poorly coached and far too injured team. His team’s are responsible for 12 division titles (one AFC East, seven AFC South, and four AFC West). He’s made the Super Bowl with four different head coaches.
Many will criticize the one-and-dones and not winning more championships, but how many quarterbacks and fan bases would kill to have his level of success? You can’t lose a playoff game without making the playoffs. Think the Browns would like to have a few playoff losses in the past decade?
Great quarterbacks not only dominate on offense, they also change the way their opponents aproach the game. At his peak, opponents would change their offensive styles to emphasize keeping the ball out of Manning’s hands. That meant a heavier run game and enhanced importance on winning time of possession (it, uh, didn’t always work out).
Rarely would Manning wow you with a seemingly impossible throw, in fact most of his passes weren’t a pretty spiral. Instead, he’d have long stretches where he just picked apart his opponent, putting his offense in a position to succeed, and methodically forced the ball down his opponents throat.
Manning ran a nearly unique offensive system. We’ve read about the two runs and a pass play called into him, Manning checking in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage, his computer brain and how he put his teammates in the right position to succeed. It is the kind of style that only Manning can successfully execute and one of the reasons for the failings of 2011 Colts without him.
Without Manning, there is a very real possibility that the Colts would have left Indianapolis. There’d be no Lucas Oil Stadium and the city wouldn’t have hosted one of the most successful Super Bowls in the past decade (Indy started a number of trends that are required for subsequent host cities). This doesn’t even include the philanthropic impact Manning has had on the city (like funding a children’s hospital).
Want to know Manning’s impact on Indiana? Look at attendance for high school football since 1998 or the amount of talent coming out of the state. Or just how few rosters don’t feature a player named “Peyton.”
There is no denying Manning’s legacy in the NFL and in Indiana. Appreciate this final possible game, even if you are watching a ghost of Manning, it might be the last time we get to see the greatest of all quarterbacks.