The league’s best ever offense will be pitted against the league’s best current defense, when the Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks this February 2 for Super Bowl XLVIII.
This match up features the first time both number one seeds from each conference will face each other in the big dance since the 2009 season, when Peyton’s Colts lost to Drew Brees’ Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. In that game, it was a late pick-six thrown by Manning that cost the Colts the game. Even more disheartening was that the Indianapolis franchise let go of a perfect season that year, opting to sit their starters during games in weeks 16 and 17 to try to give them a chance to rest and avoid injury, feeling that this was the best chance of winning another title. In the end, they were left with a pair of losses to end their regular season, and a loss in the Super Bowl that put Peyton’s legacy once again into question.
Now, with Peyton finally reaching the title game again and not much time left in his aging career, this Super Bowl becomes the biggest opportunity for Manning to prove himself… or for his critics to have incredibly more ammo against him.
If he wins, he will be 2 of 3 in his career in Super Bowls, giving him a higher winning percentage than his statistical rival Tom Brady. He will become the first starting quarterback to win titles for two different franchises. He will have justified leaving Indy to play for a team that had the money to build him a better team.
If he loses, all of the NFL records he broke in the 2013 regular season (most yards in a season, most TDs in a season, most points scored by an offense in a season) will be crippled and mean next to nothing. He will be pegged once again as the guy who can’t get it done in big games, as the player who was lucky enough to win a Super Bowl at all getting to play against the misfortunes of Rex Grossman and the Bears’ turnover-happy offense some eight years ago.
If it were up to me, the discussion would be over already. Peyton would be considered the greatest quarterback in NFL history, period. As an individual, he has a record best 4 NFL MVPs (and most likely a 5th on the way this upcoming week). As an individual, he now holds all the records. As part of a team, he’s only won one title, but this is still more than legends such as Dan Marino.
The fact is, individuals don’t win games, TEAMS win games. Where would Tom Brady be had the Patriots defense not been among the best in the league during their dynasty run? In Brady’s two trips to the Super Bowl since, his offense wasn’t enough to bring home another ring. Terry Bradshaw is tied for most Super Bowl wins by a quarterback at four, but anyone who knows of the history of the 1970’s Steelers can tell you that the fans and team itself didn’t have much faith in him, and even tried to replace him multiple times. It was the “Steel Curtain” defense that brought those titles back to Pittsburgh, not Bradshaw.
But in today’s quick-to-judge world of sports fans and critics, if a big name quarterback is part of a team that fails to win, most of the blame falls upon him. People in current American society are lazy thinkers, harsh critics, and quick to judge. The experienced player will never say that “Peyton Manning sucks,” yet millions of drunk white trash men and women who have never played a snap of football for a real team will. It’s sad, it’s wrong, but it’s also inevitable.
Peyton will face his biggest challenge of the year against the Seahawks, who this year carry the fourth best ranked defense in NFL history. While the Broncos scored on nearly every drive against the Patriots this past weekend, they settled for many field goals in the red zone. Against Seattle, Manning will be held responsible for finding a way to finish those drives with touchdowns. If he does not, he could see his entire reputation, albeit in the eyes of ignorant fools, be once again questioned and ridiculed, quite possibly until he either wins another ring, or forever.