Saturday, February 4, 2012

Peyton's Place

At this writing, there is considerable uncertainty about Peyton Manning's future as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.

It certainly wasn't that way five years ago today.

In Super Bowl XLI, played in Miami, Manning led the Colts to a come–from–behind 29–17 victory over the Chicago Bears, throwing for a touchdown and giving up only one interception. He received the MVP award for his trouble.

No, sir, there was no doubt that Manning was the Colts' quarterback in 2007. He was the toast of the town.

But times can change quickly for an NFL quarterback. Manning brought the Colts back to the Super Bowl three years later (which they lost to New Orleans) — but, given the nature of the injury that sidelined him in the season just past and the growing doubt that he can come back from it, that may prove to be the last Super Bowl appearance of his career.

At least, as a player.

At some future date, Peyton Manning may be invited back to a Super Bowl. Sometimes, past MVPs have been guests at Super Bowls. Sometimes they have participated in the coin toss. And who knows? When his playing career is over, Manning could join the pantheon of former players who have gone on to broadcasting or coaching careers — and possibly return to the Super Bowl as more than a mere observer.

But, on this day five years ago, no one was thinking about when Peyton Manning would hang it up. People were thinking about how many Super Bowls he might win. It seemed all but certain that he would win more than one before his career was over.

Ironically, if his younger brother Eli and the New York Giants beat New England tomorrow, Eli will earn his second Super Bowl ring, eclipsing his brother — and, in the process, probably securing his spot in the NFL's Hall of Fame.

Quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl victories almost always wind up in the Hall of Fame when their playing careers are over (a noteworthy exception is Jim Plunkett). One–time winners — like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre — need glittering numbers to make up for the absence of glittering jewelry on their hands.

Peyton's got the numbers. His credentials for the Hall of Fame are beyond dispute. He's in the top five in pass attempts, completions, passing yardage and touchdown passes — and each of the guys who are ahead of him are either in the Hall of Fame or will be as soon as they are eligible.

When Peyton does retire, it will only be a matter of time before he is enshrined with the rest of pro football's best.

What Manning did in February 2007 wasn't remarkable — at least not when one looks at the numbers in the box score. It was steady, disciplined, workmanlike, the kind of performance fans had come to expect after watching Manning play for several years.

In the immediate aftermath of the victory, Manning spoke not of his individual performance but of the team accomplishment and how hard all the Colts had worked that season to achieve it.

Manning's numbers that day probably made it easy to be generous. So, too, I suppose, would the certainty that he would be back in the winner's circle again.

But when all is said and done, Manning may well look back on what he accomplished five years ago today and see it as his finest hour in football.

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