08 February 2007

In Praise of Peyton....

He may look the same.

He may put up the same unbelievable statistics and he may wear the same number.

He may even make the same, stupid commercials.

All that being said, Peyton Manning is a different quarterback today than he was before Super Bowl XLI. He has completed the most important metamorphosis that an athlete can go through. Peyton emerged from a cocoon of let-downs and lost opportunities to become a butterfly of NFL success. Over the course of two games, he has declared that he is indeed what people have often have doubted most about him. Peyton Manning is a winner.

After all, winning is the most important quality in professional sports. It’s why Yankee fans love Derek Jeter but malign Alex Rodriguez. It’s why Miami fans don’t mind that Shaq takes half the season off, as long as he wins in the playoffs. It’s why we all played as the Giants in Techmo Superbowl.

Playing in the biggest game of his career, Manning’s true colors shined brightly as he took every opportunity the Bears gave him, and turned it into a victory. Throwing the short slants, the underneath passes, and handing the ball off, he led his team to a victory that many thought he would never get. He also completed his second-straight come from behind playoff victory.

Many experts have said that winning the Super Bowl got the monkey off of Peyton’s back. I happen to disagree with that. I think that the AFC Championship win against New England exorcised Peyton’s demons. The ability to run out the clock by taking a knee for a win against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick was enough for the Colts’ quarterback to undergo a cathartic cleansing. The gorilla that has plagued him since his days at Tennessee was off of his back two weeks before the Super Bowl’s opening kickoff. A Super Bowl win accomplished much more than that for Peyton.

His statistics speak for themselves and are unparalleled. When all is said and done, assuming he plays a full career, he will likely have the best statistical standing of any quarterback to ever play the game. He has the second-highest quarterback rating in NFL history. He broke Dan Marino’s record for the most touchdown passes in a season. He ranks in the top-15 for career touchdowns and passing yards, and he still has a third of his career left.

And I haven’t even mentioned his two MVP awards.

But being a quarterback in the NFL is much more than just statistics and awards. Just ask Dan Marino and Dan Fouts, whose great careers are often followed by a ‘but,’ as in, “He put up some great stats, BUT he never won the big game.”

With a Super Bowl win, Peyton assures that when people talk about his career ‘but’ will never be included. Instead, he has begun to carve his face into the Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks, tentatively reserving space between Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana. Sunday marked the first day of Peyton’s ascension to football greatness.

Peyton potentially has plenty of time left in his career, and a lot can happen in his career from this point forward, both good and bad. But no matter what, he now has his Super Bowl, the honor that any great NFL player covets more than any other, and nobody can take that away from him.

He may look the same. He may put up the same unbelievable statistics and he may wear the same number. He may even make the same, stupid commercials. But Peyton Manning is a different quarterback today than he was before. From now on, he’s one of the greats.