JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The buzzword this week (month? season?) is "legacy."
If you've paid the slightest bit of attention to Super Bowl XLVIII, you've heard the term. It comes shortly before or after the words "Peyton Manning."
Manning had some chances to answer about his legacy. Mostly, he didn't know what to say.
"I’ve been asked about my legacy since I was 25 years old, which I’m not sure you can have a legacy when you are 25 years old, or even 37," Manning said on Tuesday at media day. "I thought you had to be 70 to have a legacy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the word even means."
It makes for a debate topic when you have two weeks leading up to a championship game. It's mostly useless, as well.
Manning's legacy will not and should not be decided by one game (we all understand that when we take a step back to think about it, right?), although that's the popular narrative. We've overdone the idea that a quarterback is singularly responsible for wins and losses, and that one game makes or breaks a player. If championships are all that matter, you must also defend Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson being higher in your rankings than Dan Marino or Dan Fouts.
Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time. That's just my opinion. If you wanted to say it's Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas or John Elway or Tom Brady, those men have valid arguments as well. But what Manning did this season cemented it for me. His second act with the Broncos is unprecedented. Manning won his NFL-record fifth MVP award, and is the only player to win an MVP with two different teams. He changed coaches, teammates and cities, but brought along an offense that worked for him and had what is likely the greatest single season in NFL history at age 37. That's amazing.
Even if Manning doesn't carry the Broncos to a win over the Seahawks, it doesn't eliminate everything else he has done. However, that's not the story line coming into the game.
NFL Network, during its marathon pregame coverage, spent a segment arguing Manning's legacy.
"If he wants to be cemented as the best quarterback in history, I say he needs to win this game," former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner said on the show. "It would be hard for me to say someone is the best ever if he’s lost more championship games than he’s won."
"It removes all doubt (if Denver wins), he will be considered one of the greatest if not the greatest," Hall-of-Fame receiver Michael Irvin said.
But it makes no sense. Football is a team game. Manning has a huge say in if the Broncos win or lose to the Seahawks, but he's not the only one. He can only control his performance, and he doesn't even completely control that. He still needs his line to block and his receivers to execute too. That's why football is great. It's not just one man. And if the Seahawks win, it's not an indictment of Manning's entire career. The Seahawks are a really good team, and nobody should be surprised if they win. It's not a total failure by Manning or the Broncos or anyone else if they get beat by a Seattle team that was the NFL's best in the regular season. If the Broncos win, it's not just Manning who did it. More than one player will get a championship ring.
Manning won't win or lose Sunday's game on his own. Football doesn't work that way. But he's he only one whose entire career will be judged by many on if the Broncos win or lose the Super Bowl.
The person who had the best answer on the overblown and over-analyzed question about Manning's legacy this was probably Manning himself, a couple days after he didn't quite know what to say about it on media day.
"This legacy question keeps popping up, and I guess I had a little more time to think about it," Manning said. "If I had my choice, what my legacy would be, would be that I played my butt off for every team that I ever played on, I was a really good teammate and I did everything I could to win. Whatever happens along in that time is fine with me. Those are things that I care about."
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