Okay, so I’m going to weigh in on the whole Peyton Manning discussion. To be totally up front, I wanted Peyton to win. I love the Mannings. Archie played at Ole Miss, and my dad was an Ole Miss grad. I grew up watching or listening to every Ole Miss football game I could.
Archie played for the legendary John Vaught toward the end of Vaught’s coaching career. He was drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Saints. The Saints never provided Archie with a quality team. Most of his NFL career he was running for his life. He never complained. He didn’t get an attitude. He was and still is an ambassador for the game.
I will confess I am a Manning fan. I have a signed helmet and football from Archie. The football is a little orange one they were handing out when Archie went to a bank opening in Gautier, Mississippi, after his senior year. His arm was still in a cast. He was gracious and kind with a bunch of Ole Miss fanatics who wanted to meet ‘Archie Who.’ I have a signed picture of Eli in his Ole Miss uniform and one of Peyton in his Colts uniform. I’ve never sat down and had a conversation with any of them, but that would be on my bucket list.
When Peyton went to Tennessee, I was an Ole Miss fan, but I was smart enough to see the writing on the wall at Ole Miss at the time. I knew in my head (although my heart wanted something else) that Tennessee was the better fit for him. It cost his family in some nasty letters, and Archie’s “legacy” was affected in the short term. At the end of the day, Archie’s legacy is stronger than it’s ever been. I’ve met Archie a couple of times, and he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in your life.
Then Eli chose to go to Ole Miss. No, he didn’t win any SEC Championships. But we should all remember that a quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when they lose. You need all the pieces in place to take it to the top. The legacy of Eli at Ole Miss? A return to the former glory days. School records broken. Excitement in the stands and a #1 draft pick. Today he has two Super Bowl rings. The only people who talk about his interceptions are those who’ve never played the game and don’t have a ring.
I’m weary of hearing and reading about Peyton’s legacy. He is in the top 5 quarterbacks of all time. Some quarterbacks have won Super Bowls that don’t have near the stats of Peyton Manning. What Peyton has is a list of unbelievable records and accomplishments. He may be the smartest quarterback in the history of the NFL.
Some will say he has a losing record in playoff games and Super Bowls. So what? Do you realize he’s been in the position to be in the playoffs over 30 times? The list of men who can say that is a short list.
He’s the only player in NFL history to come back from four neck surgeries. Four. Count them. Surgeries that could have ended his career. Where the rehab was intense and painful. Four. A lesser man would have quit. He didn’t need the money. What drove him was passion for a game he loves. Most of us lack the passion to go through that kind of pain and rehab for anything. The legacy of many today is “quitter.” The man who won’t quit is a winner. Period.
One of Peyton’s legacies is that he is an ambassador for the game. He’s one of the good guys. He’s like Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez. People want to be like him because they like him. His team supports him. His coaches love coaching him. He invests back in the lives of others. He’s a five-time MVP. He is the recent Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. What does a guy have to do to get monkeys off his back? Yes, those who are on his back have never played at his level and many have never even played the game. They are analysts, but they aren’t pros.
The Broncos played their worst game of the season in the Super Bowl. I watched it till the end. I saw Peyton’s interview. I mean, really. Lesser men have avoided speaking to the media after a crushing loss. Peyton is a man. He walked in there and answered questions.
Then a numbskull asked if the loss was embarrassing. Manning said, “”It’s not embarrassing at all. I would never use that word. . . . The word ’embarrassing’ is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.”
Manning threw one bad pass for an interception. The second, his arm was hit and the defensive player went after the ball while the receiver stood there and watched it all happen. The kickoff return at the beginning of the second half took all wind out of the sails. It was one of those nights. The Seahawks played better than they have played all year.
“We played a great team,” Manning said. “We needed to play really well in order to win, and we didn’t come anywhere close to that.” Okay, so Peyton fell to 1-2 in Super Bowls and 11-12 overall in the playoffs. Again, think about the great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl like Dan Marino.
Is Peyton’s legacy damaged? I don’t think so. A legacy is built on a body of work. It’s the evaluation of a lifetime of accomplishments. Wes Welker has played in three Super Bowls and never won, but I’d take him in a minute as a slot receiver. Welker said, “He had the best year of his whole career at 37, so I wouldn’t say he’s slowing down. He’s going upward, not downward.”
Pay attention to what the Seahawk players said. Michael Bennett, defensive end, said, “Peyton’s still the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. This doesn’t destroy his legacy.”
Richard Sherman who got a lot of attention after the Seahawks played the 49ers said on Twitter not to place the blame on Manning. On Monday, Sherman was on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike”: “When I was limping up to my press conference and trying to make it up the stairs, somebody taps me on the shoulder and extends their hand and asks if I’m all right,” Sherman said during the interview. “My eyes try to make it up to see who it is, and it’s Peyton, fully dressed in a suit and obviously very concerned about my well-being.” Folks, that is class—pure class, all class. Peyton is known for this kind of kindness even in the shadow of a defeat. He’s a class act.
Sherman also said, “You know, after a game like that, biggest stage ever—to ask how you’re doing and really be generally concerned about an opponent, that shows an incredibly different amount of humility and class. People shouldn’t have to write to bash him after the season he had and everything he did…everything he’s accomplished in his career and this year as a football player,” Sherman said. “He is a Hall of Fame player. He’s a living legend. He’s a record-holding quarterback. He’s a Super Bowl champion. He’s been a Super Bowl MVP.”
Peyton’s legacy? I’m not sure. His story hasn’t been fully written. If he lives a long life, he’s about midway through the book of his life. I believe he still has much to offer. I’d take him, right now, over any of the quarterbacks coming out this year in the NFL draft, even if he only played one or two more years. Peyton is not going to embarrass his team or his family name.
Watch the ESPN “Book of Manning” special. It will make you appreciate the legacy of Archie and Olivia Manning. Archie faced a dreadful family crisis early in his Ole Miss Career. As a player, husband, and father he has instilled something in his sons about life that is admirable. Every son wishes they had a dad like Archie. Seeing Peyton now with kids, I hear the same tone in his voice when he speaks about his kids.
There’s a tenderness in those competitive hearts. A tenderness that has served Archie well, decades after running for his life in the NFL. There’s a love for one another among those brothers. They cheer for each other. They believe in each other. The legacy? Family. In a society where family is eroding and being redefined, isn’t that a pleasant thing?
I wish the folks who are worried about Peyton’s legacy would start thinking a little more about their own. My humble and accurate opinion, which I highly respect, is that some of the commentators have a lot more to work on in their lives than Peyton does in his when it comes to a legacy.
All of us should wish that we were known for having his kind of passion, commitment to excellence, attention to detail, and ability to handle adversity. No, Peyton’s not perfect. He’s not superman. But then the story is greater, bigger when we know he’s human. It’s better knowing how he’s handled all this adversity. In my book, he’s one of the greatest that ever played the game. That’s my commentary on Peyton and the Mannings.