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- Greatness falls at hands of true legend

Sports Critic January 19, 2005
Sports Critic

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By Alex Fitzsimmons, email alexcolumn@aol.com

It is implausible to imagine the player who broke the most coveted record in football being remembered as the guy that could not win the big game. Peyton Manning bears that ugly scar. After shattering Dan Marino’s single season touchdown passing record, throwing for 49 TD passes, Manning’s legacy was almost guaranteed to be that of one of the greatest signal callers ever. That is, until last Sunday, when in three repugnant hours of chaos and confusion, it all melted away.

Previously known for his audacity, fieriness, passion for the game and his methodically deliberate decision-making ability, Manning was undoubtedly the most dominant player at his position. He seemed carry a certain aura that few before him ever possessed. The way he could read a defense, stare the linebacker in the eyes, shoot a factiously sly grin at him, and in an instant, he’d turn into a magician, and the football would end up 50 yards downfield, with the defender wondering when the play was going to start.

Not only was Manning such an artisan at reading coverages, his arm strength and accuracy was and still is superior to any quarterback playing now. It’s not his arm that proved to be his undoing, the problem was his swagger. Winning back to back MVP awards demands a degree of respect from the league, and prior to being tumultuously exploited by the New England Patriots secondary, a decimated secondary lacking it’s best player, Ty Law, Manning yielded a power that said he was the man and nobody could stop him. Looks like someone shut the power off.

But that was the old Manning, the truly “special” Manning. Now, Manning’s nothing more than a shell of his former self. He’s no longer a truly elite quarterback, just a good passer that wilted when his team needed him most.

As touchdown passes rained in Indy, numerous bandwagon hopping fans considered Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He isn’t even the best quarterback in the game right now, never mind one of the greatest ever. Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady proved once and for all that he is a better player than Manning, last Sundays 20-3 dismantling of the Colts confirmed that. And last season, the seemingly infallible Manning was picked off four times in the AFC Championship Game against none other than Brady and the Pats. The only stat in football is wins, and Super Bowl trophies. Brady is a perfect 7-0 as a starting quarterback in the playoffs. But what’s even more astounding, he’s 6-0 lifetime against Manning. Brady is also a two time Super Bowl MVP, at only 27 years old. Manning doesn’t have any Super Bowl wins or even appearances, and he’s a year older than Brady.

Some argue it’s not Manning’s fault for his inconsistent play in the playoffs, that his defense doesn’t give him a chance to win. That may be some of the reason. But to be truly considered an elite quarterback, Manning should be able to carry the burden of the team even with his defenses’ shortcomings.

In the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs this year, the Colts were held to their lowest offensive output of the season, a meager three points against the Patriots under the bitter Foxboro air, with a snowy white field; all the conditions which Manning loathes. Manning was held touchdownless, if that’s even a word, while running back Corey Dillon was running amok against the soft Colts defense. And who was the catalyst, the drive, the unstoppable force behind the Pats’ success? Not Head Coach Bill Belichick, not defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, none other than the never-break-a-sweat Tom Brady.

The debate is over: Brady is better.

But what about Manning? Setting the record for most touchdowns in a single season certainly speaks volumes, but carrying the burden of a “chronic loser” your entire career won’t help your chances for the Hall of Fame. So is Manning Hall of Fame worthy?

The initial response would be, “of course, he broke the record”. But analyzing the scenario further would create a sticky situation for Hall of Fame voters. Assuming Manning doesn’t suffer some shocking career ending injury, and his numbers stay consistent, a voter might actually consider not voting Manning into the Hall. The reason: Manning lacks a Super Bowl ring. One can argue Marino got into the Hall without any Super Bowl victories, but considering that Manning and Brady will most likely be Hall of Fame eligible at about the same time, could a voter actually vote for Manning knowing that the guy next to him also vying for a Hall spot dominated him for most of his career? A sticky situation indeed.

But either way you look at it, Manning’s legacy in the football world will never be the same. And his remarkable 2004 campaign will always be remembered not for his incredible reads and potent throws, on his way to record breaking status, but rather for his inability to come through when his counterpart, Brady, was flawless.

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