x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A ring of truth in Manning debate

A week ago the debate was whether Manning was among all time greats such as Joe Montana and John Elway. That turned out to be a premature one.

Before the Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, one of the major topics for the sports media was, "If he beats the Saints, is Peyton Manning the greatest quarterback of all time?" As I listened to sports radio and watched the debates on television, all I could think was "Isn't this premature?" Before we examine the topic, let us look at the game itself.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Manning played well, but Drew Brees, the Saints' quarterback, played better in leading his team to a 31-17 win. The biggest play of the game for the Saints was a fourth-quarter interception by their defensive back Tracy Porter on Manning. Porter caught Manning's pass, returned it for a touchdown and put the game out of reach. Was it a bad pass or a bad route run by Manning's wide receiver Reggie Wayne?

That is up for debate. However, years from now we will remember only the image of Porter running 74 yards to ensure the Saints their first championship. Manning's legacy has taken a hit, no doubt about it. But is it that simple, that quick? A week ago the debate was whether Manning was among all time greats such as Joe Montana and John Elway. Now he is the great quarterback who has just one Super Bowl ring.

I understand how the media gushed over Manning last week. Since being drafted out of the University of Tennessee in 1998, he has made the Colts contenders year after year. His career started out rocky as he had a reputation of throwing game-changing interceptions late in the action, as he did on Sunday. Beginning in 2002, Manning radically changed his game. Instead of just running the play called by the coaches, he began calling his own plays at the line of scrimmage.

Manning would bark out instructions to his teammates just moments before the snap, basing his call on the look the opposing defence had shown him, and it was more than merely entertaining for the fans; it worked. Since the change, the Colts have won 10 or more games every season and triumphed in the Super Bowl in 2006. At the age of 33, Manning has passed for 50,000 yards and 366 touchdowns. He has never missed a game because of injury and seems to be improving each year.

With this resume, it was not a huge surprise to hear his name talked about with the greats last week. The problem for Manning is the fact that after Sunday he still has that one Super Bowl win, but he also has a Super Bowl loss that will focus around that late interception. One of our problems in the sports media is that we love to dub a player the "greatest of all time" before all the facts are in.

A few years ago the New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady was getting the same sort of treatment. Brady won three Super Bowls in his first six seasons. Since then injury has slowed him down, thus handing the mantle to Manning. I would be surprised if Manning does not win at least one more Super Bowl, if not more. I would also be surprised if, when he retires, he does not hold every significant NFL passing record. He is that good and, barring injury, he should join that short list of all-time great quarterbacks.

Numbers are nice, but for quarterbacks the number that counts is how many Super Bowl rings he has collected. Montana has four - and three Super Bowl MVP awards - and to me, he is the best ever. But Joe should not be too surprised if he has company in a few years from both Brady and Manning. @Email:sports@thenational.ae