What does the Super Bowl mean for Peyton Manning's legacy?

KSDK – Two acclaimed sports writers offer a point and counterpoint as to whether Peyton Manning needs to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl win this Sunday to enhance his legacy.

POINT: Super Bowl XLVIII is key to Manning's legacy

By Ira Miller

The Sports Xchange

NEW YORK -- The buildup to a Super Bowl produces too much talk, too much hype and too much analysis - and never has the need for less blather been more obvious than heading into Super Bowl 48 between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

Rarely has there been a game that is so clearly all about one man and his legacy.

Plain and simple, this one is all about Peyton Manning. Everything else is just background noise. And, yes, that includes Richard Sherman.

Football is the ultimate team game, but history is clear on this: We remember the individuals and how they perform on the biggest stages. These are the times that make a legacy - or break one.

For Manning, regardless of what happens at MetLife Stadium, this is certain to be one of his final appearances in the glare of the spotlight, and therefore, it will create a lasting memory - perhaps our final memory of him.

There is no question Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But his post-season resume is pockmarked by a record eight first-round playoff flameouts and only one Super Bowl championship - and even that, a game in which he did not have one of his best days.

Not trying to denigrate a brilliant career here. But facts are facts.

Tom Brady's post-season won-lost record is 18-8 and includes three Super Bowl victories, two of them won by drives at the end of the game. Joe Montana's was 16-7 and includes four Super Bowl victories in which he threw a total of - get this - zero interceptions. John Elway was 14-7. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-4 in the post-season. Joe Flacco is 9-4. Jim Plunkett was 8-2. Kurt Warner was 9-4. Even Donovan McNabb - remember him getting "tired" at the end of the Super Bowl - was 9-7.

Peyton Manning is a .500 quarterback in post-season. Even after winning two games this year, his career post-season record is 11-11. In 22 games, he has thrown 22 interceptions.

Maybe it's not fair that we remember January so much more clearly than September, October, November and December, but January (and more recently, February, too) is the month that matters.

And the final memory tends to be the lasting one.

Elway, who is now nominally Peyton's boss, is a good example. He got the Broncos to the Super Bowl three times and they got blown out three times. Couldn't win the big one, they said, ignoring his team's obvious weaknesses. But what is his legacy now? How about cartwheeling to a first down to help win one of the two consecutive Super Bowl titles that capped his career. He went out on top.

On the flip side, from another sport, for those of a certain age, what do we remember first about the great Willie Mays? Was it the catch on Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series, or the inability to catch a routine fly ball in his final World Series in 1972? Thought so.

Let's play word association.

Johnny Unitas. Won the greatest game ever played.

Joe Namath. Promised and then delivered a victory in Super Bowl 3.

Reggie Jackson. (Yeah, it works in other sports, too). Mr. October.

You get the point. This is where it matters.

There is a parallel to Manning. His name is Dan Marino. He was one of the greatest passers of all time. But his name rarely is mentioned in discussion of the greatest quarterbacks because of that void in his record - no Super Bowl titles.

In other words, no matter how many MVP awards Manning wins or how many statistical records he breaks, if he wants his place in the conversation about the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he has to have the jewelry, too.

Never mind that this probably will be the coldest-weather Super Bowl ever played, that the temperature and the Meadowlands winds will make it rough on passers, Manning and his legacy will be inextricably linked to it.

I know Manning already has a ring. But his passer rating in the Super Bowl he won was 81.8, far below his career figure and, in fact, his passer rating for the entire post-season that year (70.5) was his lowest of the last decade. To put the 81.8 in perspective, Tennessee's Ryan Fitzpatrick had an 82.0 rating and Miami's Ryan Tannehill's was 81.7 during the 2013 season. To put 70.5 in perspective, Brandon Weeden's rating this season was 70.3.

Manning was great in Denver's AFC championship victory over New England and clearly outplayed Brady, who repeatedly overthrew open receivers.

Now he has to close the deal like Elway did at the end of his career. He has to do it against the league's best defense, and he has to do it under conditions that probably will make it miserable trying to throw the ball. Life isn't always fair. But for Manning, success in the Super Bowl is the measuring stick. He has to play well - and he has to win.

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

COUNTERPOINT: Peyton Manning's legacy and Super Bowl wins are irrelevant

By Howard Balzer

The Sports Xchange

NEW YORK -- The word legacy is tossed around in sports as if it is some easily defined concept. We will hear it a lot this week, just as we did in the run-up to the AFC Championship Game, when those fixated on only championships insisted that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning needed to win that game to cement his legacy.

Of course, now that Manning's Broncos moved on to play the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, HE must win this game for his legacy to be top-notch, as argued by my esteemed Sports Xchange colleague Ira Miller. As if one individual in the ultimate team game in sports can win or lose on his own.

The standard for quarterbacks is simply wrong. How many times have we heard the lament that "quarterbacks get too much of the credit when their teams win and too much blame when their team loses? It's not fair, but that's the way it is."

Well, who says "that's the way it is?" Especially when it shouldn't be. Quarterbacks sure help a team win, perhaps arguably more than any other player. But they can't do it alone, especially when football is the only one of our four major team sports where the same players don't play offense and defense.

Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders never sniffed a championship, but that didn't prevent him from being considered one of the best ever.

As for Manning, you've heard all the critics. That he is just 11-11 in playoff games. That he has one Super Bowl title on his resume, and that he didn't have one of his better days that Sunday against the Bears.

Actually, that might have been one of his best games. In a steady rain in Miami, he orchestrated the offense like the maestro he still is to this day. Manning got the offense into the best plays possible against Chicago's defense, as running backs Dominic Rhodes (21-113) and Joseph Addai (19-77) combined for 190 rushing yards and Addai added 10 receptions.

Has he had some downers? Sure. Many have in the post-season when the competition is the best the league has to offer. Yes, the Patriots with Tom Brady at quarterback are 18-8 in the playoffs. But, they are also 9-8 since their last Super Bowl win 10 years ago. In five playoff games since then, Brady had passer ratings of 66.4 or less. Manning's overall passer rating in the post-season is better than that of Brady (90.1 to 87.5), and Manning has 10 playoff games with a rating of 90 or better and five better than 100, including the 118.4 he posted against New England on Jan. 19.

It is argued that our collective memories are driven by what is accomplished in championship games on "the biggest stage." That would simply be selective amnesia. Are Dan Marino or Dan Fouts not remembered for being two of the better passes in history? They are in the Hall of Fame, as is Jim Kelly, who came up short in four Super Bowls.

Is John Elway in our memory because of his helicopter run in the Super Bowl, but not for his 12-for-22 performance for 123 yards that day against the Green Bay Packers with a passer rating of 51.9? Elway also had passer ratings of 36.8 and 19.4 in Super Bowls.

Elway's Broncos won it all that first time thanks to running back Terrell Davis, who rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns. But the offense stalled in the second quarter when Davis was out of the game experiencing migraines and three possessions netted 13 yards on eight plays. He rushed for 93 yards in the second half as Denver took control.

The reality is that Manning will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he never wins another game in the NFL. And while he certainly is driven to win, it's unlikely he will lose any sleep 15 years from now if some analysts sitting in a TV studio or writers hitting their computer keys don't believe he is the best ever. Those are merely opinions.

Former NFL coach Bum Phillips, who passed away during the 2013 regular season, said it best when he was asked whether running back Earl Campbell was the best running back he'd ever seen. Phillips paused, and in his signature drawl, said, "I don't know, but he's among 'em."

A legacy is an all-encompassing snapshot of how a player performed, what he brought to the game and how he will remembered. That memory extends well beyond championships.

Peyton Manning's legacy is unquestioned and is marked by an unrelenting work ethic, love for the game and setting an example for teammates to prepare for the game the way he does.

If his team falls short, as it might on a cold night in New Jersey Feb. 2, so be it.

It can't be argued that, in a discussion of the best quarterbacks this game has ever seen, Manning "is among 'em."

Howard Balzer is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange and co-host on SiriusXM NFL Radio.


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