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Debating Manning's legacy: Peyton's place secured

The SportsXchange

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 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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