Lose the Legacy Talk

Legacy. It's all anyone seems to want to talk about regarding Peyton Manning, and whether his place in history will be diminished if he loses to the Seahawks this weekend. Just stop. In victory or defeat, it's Manning's comeback just to get to this point, and his remarkable body of work, that will seal his place in history

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Other than Omaha, there might not be a word getting thrown around more at this Super Bowl than the L word. We want to know the answer to the Peyton Manning legacy question, and we want to know it now.

But the better question is when exactly did we all get so legacy obsessed in the media? The entire roster of Seattle Seahawks and 45 Denver Broncos will be playing for a Super Bowl ring on Sunday night at chilly MetLife Stadium. But not Manning. He’ll be playing for his legacy. Just ask anyone with a microphone or note pad. They’ll tell you. It’s in all the papers.

With a win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, Manning can cement his legacy. Or define it. Or validate it. Maybe even dictate it. No matter how you phrase it, his legacy is on the line, and it clearly looms over this game. That’s just a given, right?

Wrong. That’s just our tired and predictable attempt to add heft and significance—a sense of gravitas—to an event that doesn’t need any more. A snap judgment, if you will. Can we just agree to stand back and let the whole issue breathe for a little while? Legacies are like souffles. You can’t check on them every five minutes or the thing falls flat. Dropping into the kids-in-the-backseat-on-vacation routine—Is it a legacy yet? Is it a legacy yet? Is it a legacy yet?—doesn’t really add much to the discussion.

Manning grasps the absurdity of the never-ending legacy debate quite well, and as always, he had a really smart take ready to deliver once the question came up in the opening minutes of his Super Bowl media day session on Tuesday. He even got that little look on his face that he gets when he decides to humor us in the media, and then watch to see how many are in on the joke.

“I thought you had to be 70 to have a legacy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the word even means. I’m down the homestretch of my career, but I’m still in it. It’s not over yet. It’s still playing out.”

“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,” said Manning, the 37-year-old Denver quarterback. “I thought you had to be 70 to have a legacy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the word even means.

“I’m down the homestretch of my career, but I’m still in it. It’s not over yet. It’s still playing out. This has been the second chapter of my career, and it is an exciting chapter. I’m certainly excited to be back in the Super Bowl on behalf of the Denver Broncos.”

Translation? Some questions are to be entertained, and others ignored. And Manning knows the difference. We don’t want to wait for anything these days. Certainly not the passage of time or the natural unfolding of events. But good for him that he chooses to not play along with our version of the hurry-up.

This much I know about Manning and how he fits into the narrative of Super Bowl XLVIII: He just produced the greatest year any NFL quarterback has ever had, throwing for a record 55 touchdown passes in the regular season, four more in the playoffs, and more than 6,000 yards all told. A Super Bowl defeat after all that will of course be hugely disappointing. But it won’t be legacy defining. Not for anyone standing back far enough to take in the big picture.

At his age, coming off career-threatening fusion surgery on his neck less than two years ago, what Manning accomplished this season was nothing short of remarkable. He’s not just playing after the trauma of 2011, he’s playing better than ever. The cherry on top would be his second Super Bowl ring, and the feat of becoming the first starting quarterback to ever lead two different teams to a Lombardi Trophy. But the luster of everything he’s done in Denver doesn’t disappear if Seattle finds a way to win Sunday night.

No way. No how.

His journey just getting here was special enough and can’t be negated by a Broncos loss. The arc of Manning’s comeback story doesn’t hinge solely on Sunday’s outcome. No matter how much some want to define it thusly, this is not a make-it-or-break-it game for No. 18.

A win over the Seahawks and Manning won’t have to listen to the legacy questions any more. He’ll have taken a 2006 Colts team that couldn’t stop the run at all, and won a ring. He’ll have taken a 2009 Colts team that was last in the NFL in rushing, and fallen just short of a second ring. And he’ll have quarterbacked the most prolific offense in league history to his third Super Bowl, helping the Broncos end their 15-year drought between confetti showers.

He would tie little brother Eli and Broncos football czar John Elway with that second ring, and pull within one of the three owned by New England’s Tom Brady, his longtime personal nemesis/rival. All the big-game stigma that has followed Manning around since his days losing to Florida at the University of Tennessee would finally dissipate. Elway, the man who lost his first three Super Bowls, before the catharsis of winning his final two, can relate to that. Manning would join Elway as having authored one of the greatest late-career Super Bowl triumphs of all-time.

“I think when people say that, they’re looking for something,” said Elway this week, of the legacy debate that surrounds Manning in this game. “Because he had such a tremendous year, I mean, what else are you going to talk about Peyton Manning’s that’s negative other than, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go to his legacy.’

“So I don’t think this game, one way or the other, affects his legacy the way that he has played. He’s going to be one of the all-time greats no matter what, and this will definitely help (the argument against that) if we lose it. But the bottom line (is)—this year that he has had—legacies don’t get great until you’re done. That’s when people start talking.’’

Correction, John. That’s when people should start talking legacy. But we don’t wait for the actual finish any more. We rush to judgment before all the evidence is even in. Manning’s saga isn’t over yet. It is still playing out. If anything, his 2011 health scare should have taught us to not get too far ahead of the story.

No matter what ending we get Sunday night, the L word should be used sparingly. We can debate how much Manning’s legacy will be enhanced in victory, but it can’t be ruined in defeat.

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12 comments
HughJardonn
HughJardonn

Peyton has a new Papa John's commercial out with Montana in it, so he's cool with his legacy.

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

Let me be clear:Nowhere did I state below that the number of SB rings or championship wins should be the “ONLY” metric for determining the legacies and relative rankings of NFL quarterbacks across the board.That’s certainly NOT my position here.If it were, then Bart Starr would lead my top-ten list.He doesn’t.(Nor does he even make that list.)And Dan Marino wouldn’t even make my top-ten list.But he does.Common sense dictates that any NFL player’s legacy should be based on their ENTIRE body of work.

The narrow question I raised below is whether Peyton Manning can—after all is said and done—stake out a claim as THE BEST NFL quarterback EVER without significantly improving his postseason record (which, prior to this season, stood at 9-11, with a record eight one-and-done playoff performances).I would argue that if Peyton wants to wear the king’s crown, then he can’t simply be king of the regular season.

In my opinion, the current top four are: (1) Montana; (2) Brady; (3) Elway; and, (4) Manning, Peyton.It’s in the limited context of ranking THESE super-elite quarterbacks—all of whom are in fairly close proximity to one another—that I do believe playoff records, in general, and SB rings, in particular, should be the deciding factor.Thus, if Peyton is the Super Bowl XLVIII MVP, as I expect he will be, then he moves into the #3 slot.For reasons (e.g., Brady’s overall dominance over Peyton in head-to-dead matchups, Brady’s comprehensive playoff record, etc.) too numerous to recite here, I still think Brady would have a slight edge over Peyton.Regardless, I think Montana will remain “king of the hill” for at least one more year, if not longer.

TheFFInformer
TheFFInformer

Don thank you for writing this column; we always are in a hurry to rubber stamp something. Politics, celebrities, music, and even football are not exempt from finding a label that best describes our emotional tag to something or someone. We always have to place a stamp of approval or disapproval to everything and everyone and all the time. It's pathetic that we can't stop and let things go the course before arriving to a grand conclusion. Yet we're no where near the actual conclusion! Manning, Tom, and even Brees will have a legacy in the NFL that will be judged appropriately when they wrap a golden jacket around their shoulders. That is where you define a legacy. That is where you find an end to the story. All legacy's end at Canton Ohio in a room surrounded by bronzed busts. Those busts are the faces that will be only remembered as the greatest football players in history. Now that's a legacy.  

ksondere
ksondere

Loved the article.  It actually made sense, so I'm little confused but at the same time I really like what it feels like to read common sense in the era of nonsense   :-)

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

Of course it’s too early to make a final verdict about Peyton Manning’s legacy, as the jury is still out.But where, as here, we’re talking about a slam dunk, first-ballot HOF quarterback who clearly ranks among the best ever, it certainly invites debate.Some are already now referring to Peyton as the best ever—with or without a Super Bowl XLVIII ring!

While Peyton’s legacy won’t be “ruined” with a Super Bowl XLVIII loss, it could be reaffirmed in the minds of those who argue—rightly or wrongly—that he has trouble winning the big game.Many would agree that the rubber meets the road in the playoffs, where champions are crowned and losers go home.Peyton’s lifetime playoff record now stands at 11-11, including a 1-1 Super Bowl record.How is that deserving of the “Best NFL Quarterback Ever” label?

If an NFL quarterback’s legacy were to be based on a popularity contest, then Peyton Manning would be crowned as the best ever.Fortunately, it’s not.The only way I could envision Peyton surpassing the likes of Montana and Brady, among others, would be if he were to win two more Super Bowls.Possible.But not likely.

MicahThoughtlife
MicahThoughtlife

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan Strange how no one talks about Brady's lack of play-off clutchness these last 9 years. Losing two superbowls to Eli and an 8-8 record in the play-offs over that period. Along with a questionable performance just two weeks ago in the divisional round. 

I mean, what's the difference between these barren last 9 years and Brady's 10-0 start to his play-off career and, of course, those 3 rings? Oh yeah, that's right. The Patriots happened to have a top ranked defence (6th in 2001, 1st in 2003, 2nd in 2004) in each of those seasons, and Brady was able to call the likes of Vrabel, Bruschi, Milloy, Law, Seymour & McGinnest 'teammates', which I agree seems to be a strange and novel word these days - the idea that it takes a 'team' to win/lose championships and not just one guy named Brady or Manning. 

I mean, I'm sorry but the idea that Manning - with his body of work, and the fact he'll likely own every passing record of any worth by the time he's done - needs to win 2 more superbowls to surpass Brady, just doesn't make sense. You're basically saying that Superbowl rings are the only measure of quarterbacking prowess. By that measure Bradshaw is better than Brady, Eli is better than Peyton, and Trent Dilfer is better than Dan Marino. I mean give me a break, there's more to this sauce than just rings. 

BryanCustard
BryanCustard

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan trent dilfer's playoff record is a sterling 4-1, would you rather have him start the Super Bowl for you? It takes more than a qb to win or loss a game in the nfl

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@MicahThoughtlife @Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan 

No. Actually plenty of people talk about that. The NFL is so popular that there is nothing left that "no one talks about".  

Don't pretend like you are breaking news here. Just rehashing the same old legacy/SB ring that people have been regurgitating for decades now. You are beating an army of  dead horses. 

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