NEWARK, N.J. — Peyton Manning did not want to hog the spotlight at his teammates’ expense Tuesday, despite the fact there were more than 100 television cameras trained on him during Super Bowl media day.
He also did not want to add any more pressure on his shoulders in the run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII.
So it was no surprise he deftly deflected all questions about his legacy being on the line Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’ve been asked about my legacy since I was about 25 years old,” Manning said. “I’m not sure you can have a legacy when you’re 25 or even 37. I thought you had to be like 70 to have a legacy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the word even means.”
“I’m still in the middle of my career,” Manning said, before catching himself. “Let me rephrase that. I’m down the home stretch of my career, but I’m still in it. It’s not over yet. So it’s still playing out. This has been the second chapter of my career. It’s an exciting chapter.”
Try as he might, Manning can’t escape the implications of Sunday’s result.
A win puts him more prominently in the discussion of the greatest quarterback of all time. A loss would give him a 1-2 record in the Super Bowl and probably “relegate” him to the label of “greatest regular-season quarterback of all time.”
Manning ranks second to Brett Favre in NFL history in pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdown passes and regular-season victories.
He can become the first quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl with two teams. He’s the only quarterback to win the Super Bowl with the league’s worst run defense.
He can join a group of 10 quarterbacks who have won more than one Super Bowl. Only four have won more than two. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw won four. Troy Aikman and Tom Brady each have three.
“He’s obviously one of the best quarterbacks who’s ever played,” said retired great Kurt Warner, one of only two other men to take two teams to the Super Bowl. “He’s probably top two, maybe three in the history of the league.”
“Win lose or draw his legacy is set,” said Steve Mariucci, who coached Hall-of-Famers Steve Young and Favre. “He’s a great, great, great player. The difference between greatness and greatest can be winning a Super Bowl with two different teams, which has never been done. He’s not going to have as many Super Bowl rings, probably” as Montana or Bradshaw.
“Winning a Super Bowl with a second team, would that give him another notch? Absolutely,” said Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick. “But Peyton Manning doesn’t need this game to establish a legacy. That’s already been established.”
Nevertheless, Manning needs another ring to be mentioned in the same sentence as Montana, widely viewed as the greatest QB ever.
“As far as the regular season, I think he’s the best quarterback ever,” Warner said. “I think Tom Brady, having played in five Super Bowls, probably is the best post-season guy, although you can make arguments for Joe Montana. So I think you have to add the two up. How far ahead in the regular season is he where three Super Bowl appearances, possibly two Super Bowl victories, matches up with guys who have won four? I don’t know what the answer to that question is. I just know I put him in that conversation.”
Manning has a great arm, but it’s not as great as that of John Elway or Favre. He has a quick release, but it’s not as quick as Dan Marino’s. Even though he’s relatively slow, Manning is the hardest QB to sack of any player with 50 or more starts. He’s also arguably the greatest at changing the play at the line of scrimmage and getting his offense into the best possible situation.
“You can break it down before the snap or after the snap,” Warner said. “As far as before the snap, I’ve never seen anybody better, anybody that can see defenses, understand defenses, understand nuances, change plays, get you in the right play. I’ve never seen anybody do it, I don’t even think close, to what Peyton does before the snap.”
“No one has ever been asked to do as much pre-snap and orchestrate the game the way Peyton Manning has,” Billick said. “If you watch Peyton Manning practice, he runs every aspect of that practice. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Certainly he’s up there with the greatest ever,” said Rick Gannon, a former NFL most valuable player. “I think he has more freedom and flexibility at the line of scrimmage than any quarterback in the history of the game. I remember talking to Tom Moore, his old coordinator in Indianapolis, and that’s really the way he was trained. They wanted to put it on him. I think he wanted that responsibility.”
“We have all asked the great quarterbacks to check plays, to audible, to go in a two-minute drill,” Mariucci said. “That’s nothing new. But he does it almost all the time. Tom Brady has done it quite a bit. But Brady huddled up more often this year because of all the young receivers. But Peyton does it more than anybody has.”
Manning turns 38 in March. He just finished a regular season in which he set NFL records for passing yards and TD passes. No one is expecting Sunday to be the final chapter of his career.
“He’s not done playing,” Mariucci said. “He’s coming back.”
“I feel a little bit better than I thought I would a couple years ago coming off that surgery,” said Manning, who had spinal fusion surgery on his neck in 2011. “I feel better physically. I’ve sort of been rejuvenated playing under a different offense, playing with new receivers. It keeps me stimulated every day. I’d certainly like to keep playing.”