Peyton Manning's rock-solid legacy


The greatest quarterback of all time was just beginning to celebrate one of his greatest victories and the drumbeat was already starting. After a week's worth of discussion about the importance of Sunday's AFC Championship Game to Peyton Manning's legacy, the storyline for the next two weeks begins to take shape: Manning must win the Super Bowl to cement that legacy and be considered the greatest ever.


We find ourselves, sadly, in the nothing's-ever-good-enough era of sports. We talk more about who didn't get into the Hall of Fame than about who did. We obsess over every officiating mistake. We wring our hands about a word like "legacy" when it comes to deciding which brilliant player is better than which other brilliant player and by how much. It's paralysis by analysis, where the victim is our ability to enjoy.

So I'm here to say it right now, at the start of two weeks' worth of Super Bowl hype: Manning doesn't need to win this next game to be the greatest quarterback of all time. He already is. The results of one football game on Feb. 2, 2014, won't change that. And we all need to do a better job of appreciating what we're watching.

Honestly, what has happened to our sense of wonder? Creeping cynicism, over-analysis and a single-minded obsession with championships are robbing us of the ability to enjoy the beauty of our games played at their highest levels. The final score of this year's Super Bowl won't change the fact that my 10-year-old son, with whom I watched Sunday's Manning-Brady game, someday can dazzle his own children and grandchildren by telling them he watched those guys play.

Watching Manning play quarterback is a joy and a privilege. At a time when passing-game concepts are soaring to complex new levels, Manning maintains an unprecedented, unparalleled mastery of his offense. There's no other quarterback who carries the same level of pre-snap responsibility and handles it so deftly.

Combine that with his work ethic, his physical gifts, his intelligence and (most critically) his ability to apply that intelligence in the most chaotic moments, and you check all of the boxes for quarterback greatness. Coaches would teach their young quarterbacks to play the game the way Manning does except for one small problem -- they can't. He is unique in his combination of abilities. And quite honestly, his accomplishments reflect that.

Those do include a Super Bowl title, which used to be enough to certify all-time greatness, but these days, apparently one isn't enough. Manning's punishment for leading his teams to 13 postseasons is having to answer for why he hasn't won more titles -- as though he could will himself three more Lombardi trophies the way he checks to a run play or draws a defense offside.

We've reached the point at which we've somehow put way too much importance on this one game while also underestimating how much goes into trying to win it. It's lunacy, and it's time to step back from the edge.

Colin Kaepernick's fourth-quarter turnovers Sunday were regrettable, but they don't change the fact he was utterly jaw-dropping for the first three quarters. They don't remove our ability to wonder at what he can become with Jim Harbaugh coaching him and all of that talent around him in San Francisco.

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