Legacy is one of the easiest discussion points in all of sports. It’s a topic of conversation that exists in every single sport across the entire lifespan of whatever sport you want to pick. It’s the dialog that will inevitably carry days or weeks of time on the hundreds of sports websites and the cable sports networks.
The NFL is going to begin its 95th season this week and there are numerous players who need a championship (or a second, third or fourth one) to help “define their legacy”, but none need another one more than Peyton Manning. In order to understand just how much Manning needs a second championship, let’s look across the sports landscape to the land of basketball where another 38-year old recently validated his legacy with another championship
Tim Duncan entered this past season as the old grizzled veteran who is close to retirement on a team who has been constantly overlooked by the media and fans. The hot team in free agency (aka the one or two that are purposefully inserted in the news cycle to drive clicks) always tilted Vegas’ hand in odds making. The Cavs, before they landed Kevin Love, were the favorites to win the title this upcoming season. Have the Spurs lost anyone important to free agency or retirement?
What headline is going to grab attention? The Spurs as the odds on favorite to win the championship or the return of LeBron to Cleveland? The answer is easy.
Since 1999, the San Antonio Spurs have been the definition of a champion. Their five titles are the tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most during that time span, but every time they reach the finals, eyes roll with dismay. A finals series with the Spurs involved can’t be marketed as the Big 3 vs. Kobe or LeBron vs. Durant. It’s a team of eight or nine guys, along with Gregg Popovich vs. whoever the opponent is.
In this way Manning and Duncan are the exact opposite. Duncan’s sabbaticals in his home back in the Virgin Islands after the season wraps up have now become legendary, but this is really all we know about him off of the court. He doesn’t do commercials, he doesn’t do interviews and he is only visible on his field of play. Manning and Papa John himself practically became best friends while listening to the Outlaw channel on SiriusXM in Manning’s Buick Verano. The four networks that broadcast the NFL have to spread the wealth of Peyton between them. Denver’s first three games of the season are either on Sunday Night Football (Week 1) or the coveted 4:25 window (Weeks 2 and 3). In total the Broncos are scheduled to play 10 out of 16 games in either a primetime window or the 4:25 slot on Sundays, which is essentially viewed as the prime game window of Sunday afternoons (note this is before the Sunday night flex).
The way that Duncan and Manning are alike is the storyline they shared entering this past season.
Duncan was a Ray Allen miracle three pointer in Game 6 and a missed gimmie jumper in Game 7 from claiming his fifth championship (there are obviously more variables that would have taken place after that missed jumper in Game 7, but it felt like a turning point). He and the rest of the Spurs responded by not missing a beat and literally blowing up the Heat in five games.
Duncan now has the ability to sit down with Kobe at the same table and order from the “I’ve won five championships” menu.
Manning is entering the 2014 season fresh off of the nightmares of another loss in the playoffs. This one was particularly worse than the others because, like Duncan, there are only so many chances Manning has left at winning another title. He’s a sure fire first ballet hall-of-famer, but his legacy in this era and all-time continues to suffer until he wins a second championship.
Only 11 quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have won multiple championships. Three of those names are players from this era of football, including a Manning, but not the Manning with loads of regular season accomplishments or numerous double digit win streaks.
Place yourself back in time during the ’05-’06 season after Peyton led the Colts to a championship over Rex Grossman (!) and the Bears. Now imagine explaining to your past-self why he hasn’t won another one since:
2009-10: A surprise halftime onsides kick that baffles Hank Baskett and gives New Orleans the momentum it needed to turn the game around. (Barnwell!)
2010-11: Mark Sanchez Rex Ryan leads a stout Jets defense and a smart ground and pound game that limited Manning to just 26 passing attempts in a shocking victory in Indianapolis.
2012-13: Rahim Moore blows his assignment resulting in a 70-yard, 120 million dollar touchdown throw for Joe Flacco. Manning throws a Farveian like interception to set up a Justin Tucker game winning field goal in double OT.
2013-14: Seattle’s defense overwhelms Peyton to a point where he looks mortal in a year in which he put up immortal numbers.
Admit it, the destruction of the Broncos in the Super Bowl felt like a changing of the guard in the NFL. Not only did it once again prove that a great defense will always beat a great offense, but for once it looked like Manning had no idea what to do. He looked overwhelmed on the game’s biggest stage, which is something that the “greatest player of an era” should never look like.
John Elway has once again pushed all of the chips he has in front of him to the center of the table by adding DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency this season. Outside of injuries, it would seem inconceivable for the Broncos to not make it back to at least the AFC Championship, but that’s not enough for the Broncos. It’s either a championship or another offseason of talk filled with where does Peyton’s “legacy” rank amongst the all-time greats even though he only has one championship.
The clock is about to strike midnight on Manning’s career, it’s time for him to either win his second championship or take a permanent number in line behind Tom Brady.
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