Legacy. It's all anyone seems to want to talk about regarding Peyton Manning, and whether his place in history will be diminished if he loses to the Seahawks this weekend. Just stop. In victory or defeat, it's Manning's comeback just to get to this point, and his remarkable body of work, that will seal his place in history
NEW YORK — Other than Omaha, there might not be a word getting thrown around more at this Super Bowl than the L word. We want to know the answer to the Peyton Manning legacy question, and we want to know it now.
But the better question is when exactly did we all get so legacy obsessed in the media? The entire roster of Seattle Seahawks and 45 Denver Broncos will be playing for a Super Bowl ring on Sunday night at chilly MetLife Stadium. But not Manning. He’ll be playing for his legacy. Just ask anyone with a microphone or note pad. They’ll tell you. It’s in all the papers.
With a win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, Manning can cement his legacy. Or define it. Or validate it. Maybe even dictate it. No matter how you phrase it, his legacy is on the line, and it clearly looms over this game. That’s just a given, right?
Wrong. That’s just our tired and predictable attempt to add heft and significance—a sense of gravitas—to an event that doesn’t need any more. A snap judgment, if you will. Can we just agree to stand back and let the whole issue breathe for a little while? Legacies are like souffles. You can’t check on them every five minutes or the thing falls flat. Dropping into the kids-in-the-backseat-on-vacation routine—Is it a legacy yet? Is it a legacy yet? Is it a legacy yet?—doesn’t really add much to the discussion.
Manning grasps the absurdity of the never-ending legacy debate quite well, and as always, he had a really smart take ready to deliver once the question came up in the opening minutes of his Super Bowl media day session on Tuesday. He even got that little look on his face that he gets when he decides to humor us in the media, and then watch to see how many are in on the joke.
"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."
"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," said Manning, the 37-year-old Denver quarterback. "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."
Translation? Some questions are to be entertained, and others ignored. And Manning knows the difference. We don’t want to wait for anything these days. Certainly not the passage of time or the natural unfolding of events. But good for him that he chooses to not play along with our version of the hurry-up.
This much I know about Manning and how he fits into the narrative of Super Bowl XLVIII: He just produced the greatest year any NFL quarterback has ever had, throwing for a record 55 touchdown passes in the regular season, four more in the playoffs, and more than 6,000 yards all told. A Super Bowl defeat after all that will of course be hugely disappointing. But it won’t be legacy defining. Not for anyone standing back far enough to take in the big picture.
At his age, coming off career-threatening fusion surgery on his neck less than two years ago, what Manning accomplished this season was nothing short of remarkable. He’s not just playing after the trauma of 2011, he’s playing better than ever. The cherry on top would be his second Super Bowl ring, and the feat of becoming the first starting quarterback to ever lead two different teams to a Lombardi Trophy. But the luster of everything he’s done in Denver doesn’t disappear if Seattle finds a way to win Sunday night.
No way. No how.
His journey just getting here was special enough and can’t be negated by a Broncos loss. The arc of Manning’s comeback story doesn’t hinge solely on Sunday’s outcome. No matter how much some want to define it thusly, this is not a make-it-or-break-it game for No. 18.
A win over the Seahawks and Manning won’t have to listen to the legacy questions any more. He’ll have taken a 2006 Colts team that couldn’t stop the run at all, and won a ring. He’ll have taken a 2009 Colts team that was last in the NFL in rushing, and fallen just short of a second ring. And he’ll have quarterbacked the most prolific offense in league history to his third Super Bowl, helping the Broncos end their 15-year drought between confetti showers.
He would tie little brother Eli and Broncos football czar John Elway with that second ring, and pull within one of the three owned by New England’s Tom Brady, his longtime personal nemesis/rival. All the big-game stigma that has followed Manning around since his days losing to Florida at the University of Tennessee would finally dissipate. Elway, the man who lost his first three Super Bowls, before the catharsis of winning his final two, can relate to that. Manning would join Elway as having authored one of the greatest late-career Super Bowl triumphs of all-time.
"I think when people say that, they’re looking for something," said Elway this week, of the legacy debate that surrounds Manning in this game. "Because he had such a tremendous year, I mean, what else are you going to talk about Peyton Manning’s that’s negative other than, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go to his legacy.’
"So I don’t think this game, one way or the other, affects his legacy the way that he has played. He’s going to be one of the all-time greats no matter what, and this will definitely help (the argument against that) if we lose it. But the bottom line (is)—this year that he has had—legacies don’t get great until you’re done. That’s when people start talking.’’
Correction, John. That’s when people should start talking legacy. But we don’t wait for the actual finish any more. We rush to judgment before all the evidence is even in. Manning’s saga isn’t over yet. It is still playing out. If anything, his 2011 health scare should have taught us to not get too far ahead of the story.
No matter what ending we get Sunday night, the L word should be used sparingly. We can debate how much Manning’s legacy will be enhanced in victory, but it can’t be ruined in defeat.