Former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos QB, Peyton Manning, took his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame last Saturday night. A foregone conclusion to one of the best careers any quarterback has ever produced in NFL history. His final statistics speak for themselves, but a few stand out. Manning holds more AP MVP awards (5) and more 4000 YD passing seasons (14) than any other QB in NFL history. He also produced the best statistical season for a QB1 ever when he threw for 5477 YDs and 55 TDs in 2013. All of that to go along with three Super Bowl appearances with two victories and one Super Bowl MVP. Unquestionably, Peyton Manning is one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Admittedly, I grew into my teen years during the early to mid-2000s as a Patriots fan. I thoroughly enjoyed rooting against Manning. During the years in which the Manning/Brady debate was culturally relevant, I regurgitated endless talking points in order to defend Brady. However, despite my shameless Brady/Patriot bias, even I can bring myself to acknowledge the legend that Peyton Manning is. Now that he is officially enshrined into Canton forever, I feel morally obligated to share some of my favorite Manning memories.
2001 Season Week 3 – New England VS Indianapolis
Tough day for the Omaha crowd. The Sheriff threw three interceptions. Two of which were returned for TDs by Otis Smith and Ty Law. The Patriots, at 0-2, and were without starting QB Drew Bledsoe. No problem. The Greatest Living American is born. Young, 24-year-old, Tom Brady takes over. The journey begins. Game manager Brady plays decent. Peyton Manning does not. Patriots defeat Colts, 44-13. To even suggest this game alters each players´ GOAT trajectory might be unfair…I will suggest it anyway.
2013 Season Week 12 – New England VS Denver
As previously mentioned, Peyton Manning holds single-season records for TDs and YDs, both of which were set during the 2013 regular season, playing in Denver. In 2013, the Broncos´ offense is a nearly unstoppable juggernaut, scoring 606 points by the season’s end. Manning and Denver are 9-1 heading into Gillette Stadium for a Sunday night showdown with Brady and New England. What a night it becomes. Denver races out to a 24-0 halftime lead. Game over. Well, until Brady engineers an epic comeback. He throws for 344 YDs and 3 TDs. Patriots win a wild one 34-31 in OT. It’s unfair of me to put this all on Manning. While he underwhelms by his standards, 150 YDs 2 TDs, and 1 INT, his team struggles even more. Montee Ball has a costly fumble. Wes Welker adds a communication gaffe on a punt return. Hard to rag on #18 too much. Although, another opportunity to watch Manning´s reaction to Brady ripping his heart out again is simply delightful.
2004 AFC Divisional Playoff Game – New England VS Indianapolis
Sheriff Manning throws for 238 YDs with no TDs and an INT to Rodney Harrison to cap off a putrid 20-3 defeat at the hands of the eventual Greatest Living American. Now, it is pure revisionist history to suggest Tom Brady can claim sole responsibility for everything good in this game. At this point in his career, Brady was simply a mistake-free winner who relied on an elite defense and the last great run of Corey Dillon to carry the bulk of what would end up being another Super Bowl run. Even after this game, there was still an argument to be made that Manning played the position of QB better. My, how far we´ve come.
2003 AFC Championship Game – New England VS Indianapolis
This is the Ty Law game. Why? Well, you see, Law was Manning´s favorite target on this day. Of the four INTs, Ole´ Peyton threw, three of them are snagged by Law. The ¨Omaha¨ guy finishes the day with 237 YDs, 1 TD, and the aforementioned, 4 INTs. Beautiful day in the New England snow. Luckily for Manning, his organization isn’t about to go down with a whimper. Bill Polian will do right by his QB1, speak to the league, and see to it that the league places emphasis on the five-yard illegal contact rule. Based on the results listed in the previous paragraph, I´d say this worked out well.
Super Bowl XLVlll – Denver VS Seattle
Even the most obnoxious Patriot/Brady/Belichick supporters, like myself, are willing to accept defeat. The aforementioned week 12 victory during the 2013 season was only sweet for so long. Manning and his record-setting Broncos inevitably defeat The GOAT and The Hoodie in the AFC Championship game. Further, Peyton Manning played better than Tom Brady in 2013. Yes…He did. In defeat, as a fan, I remain humble. I was happy. Happy for Manning. I prepared myself to watch Peyton Manning cap off the greatest single-season any QB1 had ever played with a Super Bowl ring. His second ring. How was this humble Patriot fan rewarded for his show of support? Peyton Manning loses 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks. Sheriff Omaha finishes the game with 280 YDs, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. Sad. The game is over after the first snap.
Clearly, Petyon Manning is one of the best to play the position. The eternal joy I have poking fun at some of his lower moments does not change that. Yes, he maintains a losing record to Tom Brady. Yes, his little brother holds the same amount of rings that he does. No…his little brother is not being discussed any further…Despite all of this, Peyton Manning remains a legend. I will never appreciate a great player while rooting so hard against them like I did Peyton Manning ever again. Further, Patriot fans will never get to witness the routine thrashing of a future Hall of Famer at the hands of the team we root for quite as we did with The Sheriff. Congrats, Peyton, on an amazing career. I’m proud to say, I was a part of it.
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