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Sunday marks the AFC Championship in Indianapolis when the Jets visit the Indianapolis Colts. As any serious follower of the NFL knows, playoff time is also legacy making time. Few players know such a concept better than the only player in NFL history to win the MVP four times, Peyton Manning.
You see, Manning is stuck. Despite all of the well-wishes and compliments thrown his way on a season to season basis, he is stuck at that number…one. It’s the same number shared by Trent Dilfer, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler, Phil Simms, Eli Manning, and other souls. It’s far from a negative. After all, players like Dan Marino and Dan Fouts would have killed for just one Super Bowl ring.
Manning is a different beast though. He is one of the most prepared athletes of this generation or any other. As Peter King explained while tracking Manning during the lead up to Super Bowl XLI versus Chicago, Manning is a preparation freak. The NFL mandated that 54 different balls be used during Super Bowl XLI. Who do you think ended up breaking in all 54 game balls?
He is also a student of the game and history. Manning winning a second Super Bowl would clearly catapult him into that legendary pantheon of big game success alongside of Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, John Elway and even his contemporary, Tom Brady. While there are those that make the argument for him even now, his postseason resume wreeks of question marks.
While he did win Super Bowl XLI MVP, Manning posted one of the worst postseason runs for a Super Bowl winning quarterback of all-time. He threw three touchdown passes but posted seven interceptions and did not have a single game passer rating higher than 81.6. Despite slaying the Patriots on the way to winning the Super Bowl, something just seems missing from Manning’s resume.
He is missing THAT game. That hammer performance in a championship game. Montana had three monster Super Bowls; Unitas had the ’58 NFL title game; Brady had Super Bowl XXXVI & XXXVIII; Elway had back to back Super Bowls, both endearing in different ways. What is Peyton Manning’s defining postseason moment? The 2006 AFC title game? He was ok in Super Bowl XLI but far from lights out. He still needs THAT game.
A win versus the Jets puts him in his second Super Bowl and one step closer towards ring number two; further from Earl Morrall and more like his other iconic counterparts.
Back in February, I wrote an article about Brett Favre and his place in history via the concept of table arrangements. Ironically, Favre and Manning, two of the four remaining quarterbacks, were both seated at Table #2, a heartbeat away from Table #1 fitted with Montana, Brady, Unitas, Elway, Bart Starr, and Otto Graham. A second Super Bowl win and a 2-0 mark in the big game would easily catapult Manning towards the final table.
I’ve never been a huge supporter of his but he is dragging a bad running game and receivers from BYU and Division-III Mount Union within inches of the Super Bowl. Even I can’t come up with the words to knock him for that. It has been a supreme effort for him in 2009 but it will be all for not if he doesn’t win on Sunday.
When his career began back in 1998, I’m not sure many thought he would end up with the same number of rings as little brother Eli. Thus, time is running out on the old Tennessee Vol. Even the great Manning will run out of bullets at some point.