Peyton Manning's legacy has a lot riding on the outcome of the Super Bowl
NEW YORK – At best, the label has the feel of a backhanded compliment.
Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history.
It's supposed to mean that, during the 16-game schedules he has played in each of the last 15 years, Manning has generated better statistics than anyone else who ever has played his position in the league.
But it's actually just a nicer way of saying that he has repeatedly fallen short in the postseason.
The less polite label for that is: "Can't win the big one."
On Sunday, Manning, who has a 1-1 record in the Super Bowl, gets another chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy when his Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium.
Considering that, since the last time he played for the NFL title, he has celebrated his 37th birthday (making him a senior citizen in this young man's game), undergone four surgical procedures on his neck, missed an entire season, and changed teams, you'd be tempted to view this as one of those warm and fuzzy stories about player who is in a virtual no-lose position because he's widely seen as the sentimental favorite. Gee, wouldn't it be great if, after all that he's been through, big number 18 got another Super Bowl ring?
It is reasonable to conclude that no one needs a victory in Super Bowl XXVIII more than Peyton Manning.
With a win, he changes the discussion about all of those spectacular statistical regular seasons being followed by all of those one-and-done postseasons he had with the Indianapolis Colts and in 2012, his first year in Denver. He gets more appreciation for his great talent, for the ability to do everything it takes to put his team in the best possible position to achieve the ultimate accomplishment while not succumbing to the enormous pressure that goes with actually doing so.
With a loss, Peyton Manning merely turns up the volume on the critics who believe that, despite being the most recognizable name and face in the game, despite spending a large chunk of his life in the constant glare of the national spotlight, he simply can't hold up under the enormous weight of delivering a championship.
That was why he heard multiple questions about his legacy during Tuesday's Super Bowl Media Day.
Manning has the smarts and savvy to know just how step away from those sorts of blitzes while making his audience think he's giving them a little something of substance.
"I've been asked about my legacy since I was 25 years old, which I'm not sure you can have a legacy when you are 25 years old, or even 37," he said with a smile. "I thought you had to be 70 to have a legacy. I'm not 100 percent sure what the word even means.
"I'm down the homestretch of my career, but I'm still in it. It's not over yet. It's still playing out. This has been the second chapter of my career, and it is an exciting chapter. I'm certainly excited to be back in the Super Bowl on behalf of the Denver Broncos."
In other words, Peyton Manning is telling those of us who write and talk about the game to do whatever as we see fit with all of that legacy stuff because nothing he can say is going to change a thing. It's all about what he does in the game, and, most important, on which end of the final score that he and his Bronco teammates reside.
"I know how hard it is to get here," Manning said. "To win it would be an extremely gratifying feeling to represent the organization. There is a ton of hard work and sacrifice that goes in just to get into this game. To win it would be very special."
In more ways than one.
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