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Manning's Legacy in limbo after Super Bowl

Cliff's Notes

By Charlie Clifford
On February 6, 2014

43-8. Not even the Seahawks super fan dressing in the life-sized Hulk get-up saw that coming. The "un-pickable" battle of opposite heavyweight forces was anything but. Conspirator theorists will conclude in the future that Mark Sanchez slipped on an orange No. 18 jersey and ran out onto his home field for one last time this night. The opening snap mirrors the butt-fumble of Thanksgiving night in 2012. The finishing quarter mimics a high school summer passing league exhibition, running through the motions until the final whistle is blown.

As the masses were filtering out of the Uptown watering holes of choice Sunday evening, the conversation of the atrocity that is Super Bowl XLVIII was already over. All the noise now focused on Peyton Manning.

What in the name was that Peyton? The best quarterback ever? Surely the majority now feels this is not the case.

It is as if the Peyton Manning warship, armed with his unprecedented, record-breaking regular season of 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards is capsized and sinking into the abyss after this mild February night in New Jersey. The dream of adding a second NFL ring to his robotically perfect regular season is swept away like a soft Seattle rain.

Suddenly this mythical creature walked off the artificial Met Life Stadium turf as vulnerable as the rookie (3-13) Indianapolis quarterback in 1998. Now he is old, tired and broken.

Just as critics sharpen their pencils for Monday's headlines, however, let us tip our caps to the champions and move forward with the fact that Peyton Manning is still the best quarterback ever. Consider what the latest generation of football fans now values compared to the previous. The perfect storm of the Madden videogame series combined with fantasy football and around the clock coverage of pigskins flying from coast to coast is changing our perception as fans of what is a great quarterback.

No longer is the gritty, grind-em-out, game managing quarterback a recipe for championships in our minds. Value is now measured in terms like rocket arm, precision passer and robotic mind.

No other quarterback influences this change more than Peyton. His ability to do this year after year for 15 full NFL seasons is spectacular.

A small example of this once in a lifetime player comes best in what turned out to be the last playoff victory Manning registered as an Indianapolis Colt. With the Jets leading the Colts 17-6 with seconds remaining in the first half of the 2009 AFC title game, my phone was abuzz with Cliffords all over the country loosing their minds over the Jets being one half away from returning to the big game. They were ready to party like 1969. Broadway Joe would surely be boozing and botching the opening coin toss like it was 1969. Four drives and four consecutive touchdowns later, Manning had the Jets faithful heartbroken, wishing it 1969.

It still is the best performance I have ever seen. It was not fair, it did not seem human, and when Peyton is at his best, it never does.

Looking forward as the dust settles and the No. 18 jersey rises into the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium for eternity, the fact of the matter is Peyton Manning is a champion. He has a ring. This is not a case of Marino, Kelly or Tarkenton. Do not try to convince yourself of the latter. You saw the best. And man was it fun to watch.


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