AFC Championship: Win or Lose, Peyton Manning Still Among the Best to Play the Game

19 Jan

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning greet each other after the Patriots 34-31 win on Nov. 24.  Photo by the DenverPost.com.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning greet each other after the Patriots 34-31 win on Nov. 24. Photo by the DenverPost.com.

There are some who are touting Sunday’s AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver as some sort of legacy game for both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

It’s like Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III in boxing or Achilles versus Hector in Greek mythology. We are looking for another epic struggle for the ages that will be etched indelibly on the minds of football fans everywhere.

I guess what folks are really trying to say that this will be a contest of how history will view what Brady and Manning done during their careers.  What people really want to know is who is the greatest between Brady and Manning?

To be honest, I think that both quarterbacks will be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. After all, Brady has led the Patriots to three Super Bowls. Manning, who has one Super Bowl ring, he has re-written the NFL record book and considered to be among the all-time greats to play the game.

For all the things that Manning has done as a quarterback, it will not resonate for a lot of fans in this day and age because he doesn’t have as many Super Bowl rings as Brady. Hell, he doesn’t have as many as his brother Eli, who has two with the New York Giants.  Let’s face it, Eli is not as good as his elder brother.

Even if the Broncos can’t get past the Patriots, please don’t go around saying that Manning’s greatness as a quarterback is diminished because he doesn’t have as many rings as Brady or anybody else.

One of the things that bothers me about our current media landscape of 24-hour sports networks, talk radio and social media is that we are so caught up in the bling of championship rings that we tend to forget one immutable fact that’s important to success in sports like football—It’s a “team game.”

In an era where the No. 1 talking point in sports that we all get off on is Michael Jordan winning six rings as a member of the Chicago Bulls, we determine the greatness of players by how many championships they won while playing for a particular team.

The problem that I have with that notion is that Jordan didn’t win those titles by himself and neither did Brady. They were part of some great teams. Their names are not on those trophies by themselves. They played with players that complimented their skills.

I find that reminding fans that teams win championships, whether it’s a column in the newspaper or on social media, is like your mother telling you when you were a kid that you should eat your vegetables because they’re good for you.  You would rather have chocolate cake and other assorted sweets because it tastes better even though it has too much sugar.

We like to believe that our heroes act alone like they do in all the super hero comic books or in the movies. Such things as having outstanding offensive lineman, a great defense and special teams become secondary to making our favorite players larger than life.

In football, success in the postseason, contrary to popular belief, is dependent upon your teammates-offense, defense and special teams.  A bad day in one of those areas and you won’t win.

In Manning’s case, he is 10-11 in playoff games and has just one Super Bowl ring. If you look back through the playoff games he lost, I would venture to say that when you cut it down the middle that some of those losses weren’t his fault and some were very much his fault.

For example, in a crazy 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, a missed chip-shot field goal near the end of that game ended his season.

In some of those games, the defense couldn’t stop the other team’s offense. Last season’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoff round was a classic example of that. You know the story.

The Broncos were up seven with under a minute to play and seemed on their way to the AFC Championship until a mistake by the defense allowed Jacoby Jones to score on a 70-yard touchdown pass that tied the game and sent it into overtime.

Of course, Manning’s last pass of the game in overtime was intercepted by Baltimore’s Corey Graham. It doesn’t come to that if Denver safety Raheem Moore is in better position to defend Jones in regulation.

Sometimes, the players on the other team are just better than your team that day. The Patriots beat Manning’s Indianapolis Colts teams twice in the playoffs because the Patriots defense outplayed his offense while the Colts defense couldn’t stop Brady and the Patriots.

There are plenty of great quarterbacks in this game who never won one Super Bowl. I think of the Dan Marinos, the Warren Moons, Jim Kellys and the Dan Fouts who were great quarterbacks, but never won a championship because some aspect of their team’s dynamic was flawed in some way.

I still remember flashes of Fouts watching helplessly on the sideline as the Oakland Raiders offense ran out the last seven minutes of the 1980 AFC Championship after the Chargers had scored the touchdown to come within seven.

The glare of those rings blinds us from the reality that winning a championship in team sports is hard. You need the right mix of players and good coaching along with a little bit of luck to win. You can have the greatest player in the world, but if you don’t have a solid team around him playing together, you’re not going to win jack.

Whether or not he beats New England on Sunday or the NFC squad two weeks later in the Super Bowl, Manning is still among the great quarterbacks in the history of the game.  Losing Sunday or two weeks from now will not dim the glory of his outstanding career.

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