Talk of Fame Network
by Ron Borges
Unless something changes radically in his jewelry collection in the next few years, Peyton Manning will always be defined by his numbers. That is a blessing and a curse.
For those who believe the 38-year-old Denver Broncos’ quarterback will eventually hold every passing record that means anything in the NFL, some numbers trump others. Manning needs three touchdown passes Sunday to pass Brett Favre as the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdown passes with 509. That could happen against the 49ers, but if their stingy defense denies him it won’t be long before he improves on the 506 he has, making him and Favre the only quarterbacks in NFL history to chuck 500 or more scoring passes. Dan Marino, a numbers man himself, is a distant third with 420.
The same is true with passing yardage, where Manning trails Favre by 5,344 yards. But if he simply hits his career average of 3,821 the next two seasons, he easily passes him — and that’s discounting the fact he hasn’t thrown for fewer than 4,002 yards since 2005.
The number crunchers look at those figures and conclude Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time, claiming to have the empirical evidence to back up such a claim. It is not unlike the argument long made by advocates for Marino.
But how can you be the best quarterback of all-time when you wouldn’t be considered the best quarterback in your own team’s history…twice?
When it comes to the Colts, everything at quarterback begins with Johnny Unitas, who many insist IS the greatest quarterback of all-time, despite the fact his statistics have long ago been dwarfed not only by Manning and Favre but by guys like Vinny Testaverde and Warren Moon.
As for the Broncos, Manning’s boss is The Boss when it comes to Mile High quarterbacking. In Denver there is John Elway. Everyone else is fighting for second place.
One could make a third argument against Manning’s place on the Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks as well. How can you be the greatest of all-time when you weren’t the greatest of your era? That distinction, frankly, belongs to Tom Brady, despite the fact that Manning’s first NFL coach, Jim Mora, will make a strong case for Manning over Brady to our Talk of Fame Network radio listeners this weekend.
Bill Parcells used to say “quarterbacks, like coaches, are judged by their jewelry.” What he meant is their job is to win. Everything else is secondary. When that becomes the criteria the numbers argue against Manning, so let’s look at Manning and Brady from that perspective.
Manning has Brady on yards and touchdown passes, the latter by a wide margin (506-369) and the former by a sizable one as well (66,494-50,593). Where he does not have him … and is not even close … is what I’ll call the Parcells Quarterbacking Stat (PQS): Wins when it counted most (WWICM).
Brady has a better winning percentage, more Super Bowl appearances (5-3), more Super Bowl wins (3-1) and is 10-5 against Manning in head-to-head meetings, including three of the last four times they met when few would argue Brady didn’t come with superior weapons around him.
But those are not the numbers that weigh most heavily on Manning’s sloped shoulders. The ones that speak the loudest are these: Brady is 18-8 in the playoffs, while Manning is 11-12 with eight one-and-dones.
Could you imagine Otto Graham, who took the Cleveland Browns to its league championship 10 straight years and won seven times, being one-and-done eight times?
Elway? Unitas? Joe Montana? Roger Staubach? Troy Aikman? How about Slingin’ Sammy Baugh? None of them come close to that level of failure when the games meant the most.
The fact is this: Whatever list Peyton Manning is on when it comes to quarterbacks, it wouldn’t — as Bum Phillips might put it — take long to call the roll. But his name wouldn’t be called first. Or second. Or even third, fourth or fifth. Not if your numbers include one-and-done eight times in 13 playoffs tries.
Of all Peyton Manning’s glowing numbers, in the end, it’s his PQS that speaks the loudest.
(Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)