FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski claims to have seen an extra-terrestrial creature.
"He's the alien now," Jaworski said. "He's playing the game like he's from outer space. No one on this planet is playing the game like he is. The performance he had against the [New York] Jets [in the AFC championship game], that is a damn good defense. That is not some slappy defense put together with a bunch of guys; that's a defense terrorizing people. Manning made them look pedestrian.
"The skill set is there, the pocket presence is there, the speed of decision-making is incomparable. He sees the field with incredible clarity. But the thing I see with him and other great quarterbacks, his movement in the pocket. It's not talked about a lot, but he really perceives where the pressure is coming from."
If you listen to the likes of Jaworski and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, Manning has not only elevated his game beyond others of the game today, he has already climbed high on the list of the all-time greatest passers.
"What can you say? He has changed how the position is being played," said Marino, whose career passing yards (61,361) and touchdowns (420) are second only to Brett Favre's(notes) totals. "From the standpoint of how he's a coach on the field and they're calling all the plays on the field and really how the rhythm of the game is built around him … it's pretty special what he's doing right now. To see how he has handled it this year and he's doing it with new people, the two young wide receivers, [Pierre] Garcon and [Austin] Collie."
Fact is, Manning, who is in his 12th year, may have already surpassed Marino as the greatest pure thrower in the history of the game. Actually, based on this writer's opinion, he has.
Here's a look at one man's top 10.
1. Johnny Unitas: Unitas earns the nod as the greatest of all time because he was great in three ways. First, he set the statistical standards of his time by throwing for 290 touchdowns. Second, he won three championships. Third, he is a critical part of NFL history, having led the Colts to the title in the 1958 NFL championship game, which has been dubbed the "Greatest Game Ever Played." He also was part of the 1969 Super Bowl between the New York Jets and Baltimore, which led to the merger of the NFL and AFL. Finally, Unitas defined the toughness of his era. He was the John Wayne of quarterbacks.
2. Joe Montana: Montana not only won four championships, his play defined the change in the NFL from its rough-and-tumble past to its high-tech present. The combination of Montana and brilliant coach Bill Walsh completely changed conventional thinking about how football should be played. The wide-open offenses of today owe a great debt to the approach that Walsh took and, just as importantly, Montana executed. Oh yeah, Montana was also the best clutch quarterback of all time.
3. John Elway: If you are asked to draw up what a quarterback should look like, Elway is it. Tall, strong, fast, athletic and, oh yeah, maybe the greatest arm of all time. Yeah, he didn't win a title until he had a great running back next to him, but Elway made some huge plays in his two Super Bowl victories. Aside from that, he basically willed the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances earlier in his career.
4. Peyton Manning: The greatest technician of his time and the guy who will likely own every record once he is done in seven years, give or take a season. That likely will include the record for consecutive games played (has started all 192 contests since he entered the league) by the time he's done. Manning has accomplished this by combining his skills with a passion for the game that is unmatched. Throw in his extraordinary intelligence and you have a player who has maximized every bit of his talent. Manning is the definition of a talented overachiever.
5. Tom Brady(notes): Brady owns three titles, the only 50-TD pass season in NFL history and came within a miracle performance by the New York Giants two years ago of leading the New England Patriots to the second undefeated season in NFL history. That's a stunningly impressive résumé for a guy who has been a starter for essentially only eight seasons. Brady also owns two of the best clutch performances in Super Bowl history.
6. Dan Marino: Before Manning, the former Miami Dolphins passer was the greatest pure passer ever. His ability to break down and read defenses was unmatched until Manning. His quick release was unreal and his ability to move within the confines of the pocket was artistic. The obvious knock against him is that he never won a title. If he had a couple, he'd be higher on this list. That may seem unfair, but the point of the game is to win.
7. Otto Graham: While professional football was still in its infancy during Graham's 10-year career (1946-55), he did nothing but win. Graham led Cleveland to a championship game in every season he played, winning seven titles. That included four in the All-American Football Conference, but Graham and the Browns still dominated after joining the NFL in 1950.
8. Terry Bradshaw: Sadly, Bradshaw's career has been overshadowed by the fact that the Steelers had the greatest defense in the history of the game. His career is also overlooked as a result of his sometimes clownish behavior as a TV analyst. Bradshaw just isn't taken as seriously as he should be. He might be the greatest deep thrower in the history of the game and his postseason numbers are stunning (3,833 yards, 30 TDs, 14-5 record).
9. Brett Favre: Favre is a big favorite for many fans, a magnet for attention both good and bad. He's also extremely tough and he owns all of the major passing records. The problem is that Favre also owns the worst record, the one for career interceptions (317). Beyond that, since winning a Super Bowl during the '96 season, Favre has had a terrible run in the postseason for the better part of his career. For all his greatness and his entertainment value, there's some serious downside to his career.
10. Sammy Baugh: While Sid Luckman is often credited as the quarterback who changed the nature of the position, Baugh is really the guy who made the forward pass a weapon. His numerical achievements must be put in the context of how difficult it was to simply throw the ball of his era (the football was rounder and fatter than it is today). Baugh also set records as a punter that stand today.
- Dan Marino
- Peyton Manning