Four neck surgeries would be enough to end any athlete’s career, but not Peyton Manning’s. Manning, who recovered from missing the entire 2011 NFL season to become the all-time top passing yards leader, overtook Brett Favre’s record in the Denver Broncos’ defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs. It further elevates Manning into the conversation of the best quarterback of all time. After all, this is a man who also holds the record for most regular season touchdown passes with 539, jointly-holds the record for most touchdowns in a game with 7 and is an individual who has the honour of the most passing-yards in a single season with 5,477.
Manning seems to own most NFL records when it comes to the quarterback position. The 39-year-old, nicknamed ‘The Sheriff’, can also lay claim to being one of the earliest proponents of the hurry-up passing offense, revolutionising the way the position is played and overseeing the league’s gradual offensive shift from one predominantly featuring running backs and a strong ‘ground and pound’ running game, to one that is now dominated by quarterbacks. And yet, there are still those divided as to whether Manning, a one-time Super Bowl champion with the Indianapolis Colts, can truly be called the greatest there has ever been.
Manning has tough competition for that title. Joe Montana has traditionally been viewed as the benchmark for great quarterbacks having won four Super Bowl titles as a member of the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Then you have the New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady who tied Montana for most Super Bowl wins in February 2015 by leading his side to victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The list in truth is a long one.
Many criticise Manning for his lack of play-off success, both as a member of the Colts and his current side the Broncos. Now, on one hand this is a fair criticism as he has never been able to replicate his stunning regular season form on the post-season stage. One only has to look at Denver’s humiliating loss to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014 as evidence.
Yet, this would be doing a disservice to a man who has defined the position over the last seventeen years. This season has been one of Peyton’s most average. Despite Denver’s excellent start he has struggled to make the deep passes that have defined his entire career, a consequence of the multiple surgeries that many thought would end his career. It is a far cry from his first three seasons with the Broncos where he continually tore up the record books.
Some critics have suggested Manning should have called it a day last season, and rumour has it he was persuaded to stay on so he could break Favre’s record. For me, it is irrelevant whether Manning is or is not the greatest of all time. That ultimately depends on your opinion. With Manning battling heel condition plantar fasciitis this very well could be his last season. We have been exceptionally fortunate to witness several greats in their own right from Manning and Brady to the likes of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. This truly is the age of the quarterback – one of many reasons why distinguishing between them is so difficult.
Manning can hardly be blamed for the Colts’ defensive shortcomings. After all, it was the front office in Indianapolis who prioritised stocking up on offensive weapons for Manning. Now, many felt Manning would be able to lead Denver’s charge for a first Super Bowl win since the days of John Elway, and it still might happen this time around.
Regardless, we ought to savour Manning while he is still playing. At 39, and with his ailments mounting, the least we can do is leave the discussion of who is the best ever until after number 18 has ridden off into the sunset.
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