It's not everyday a future Hall of Fame quarterback with nearly 65,000 career passing yards, 491 touchdowns, four league MVP awards and one Super Bowl victory needs to prove himself. But after his contributions helped the Broncos defeat New England in the AFC Championship game on Sunday, Peyton Manning perhaps slayed one of his career dragons and finally buried it at the age of 37.
The dragon, of course, being Tom Brady and the fact that he previously led his Patriots to playoff victories over Manning's Colts on the way to winning two of his rings.
Not only did Manning slay that dragon, he did it rather emphatically, with 400 passing yards and two touchdowns in Denver's 26-16 victory.
When it comes to certain things, the sports world has always been a pretty cruel one, and that's certainly been the case when it involves marquee quarterbacks and the number of rings they collect during their careers. Despite Manning's extraordinary career, it's been Brady who has been the gold standard for passers for over a decade. Obviously, with nearly 50,000 career passing yards and 359 touchdowns, Brady's numbers aren't too shabby in their own right. However, it's those three Lombardi trophies that he helped New England win early in his career that has earned him praise among many as the best of the current era--maybe even of all time.
No position in professional sports is as closely associated with championships as a quarterback. Despite the universal sentiment that football is the ultimate team sport, when it comes to the postseason, it's not about what the team did, it's about what the quarterback did.
That's mostly fair, I suppose--I've spent the past 250 words heaping praise on Manning, and I haven't mentioned another Bronco who helped his team capture the AFC crown--but more things go into a team winning a championship than what the quarterback does--even if it is, by far, the most important position on a football field.
Manning's critics often point to his rather ordinary playoff record (11-11 heading into Super Bowl XLVIII) and his lone Super Bowl ring, but he spent the majority of his career in Indianapolis during the AFC's reign as the superior conference in football, complete with juggernauts like those Patriots and obviously the Steelers, who combined to win five Super Bowls and eight AFC crowns in 11 seasons.
To criticize Manning for not winning more Super Bowls sort of takes away what the other great AFC teams did, as well as the Saints, who defeated Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV.
If the Seahawks knock off Denver at MetLife Stadium in two weeks, Manning's critics will obviously be out in full force, once again. But if the Broncos win, Manning will become the first starting quarterback to win Super Bowls with different teams.
When all is said and done, history will be much kinder to Manning than it will be harsh, but if his face isn't already on the Mt. Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks, he's 60 minutes away from reserving a permanent spot.
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