Before the Super Bowl, two versions of this post were already written. One where Peyton Manning becomes the greatest quarterback ever and one where he comes up just short. I didn't expect to write one where he crashes and burns.
I got called names last year for saying that Peyton Manning was a choker after he lost a game where he never got to touch the ball in overtime. This time, it was his comeback-killing interception that sealed the Saints' Super Bowl victory. Is it fair that one errant pass—on a route the receiver probably botched—should determine a player's legacy? No, of course not. But sports are not fair. There can be no doubt that if his team had won last night, Manning would have received all of the credit and no one would have objected.
But that does that make him a total failure? After all, you can't blow a big game without being good enough to put yourself in a position to blow it. Most NFL quarterbacks will never even see nine playoffs games; forget about screwing them up. But the truth is that Manning has indeed lost the same number of playoff games that he's won. (He needed two wins this year just to get back to .500.) Even the greatest of the greats don't win them all, but we're talking Buffalo Bills/Atlanta Braves territory here. Nothing against Bobby Cox, but egghead authors aren't exactly lining up to write books about his genius.
Peyton Manning is a phenomenal quarterback. His mastery of signal-calling and his understanding of the mathematics of football is unrivaled. Replace him with Curtis Painter and the Colts are lucky to win three games this year. After surrendering a ten-point lead in the Super Bowl, he calmly marched his team down the field and took it back. He played a great game last night. But in the biggest possible moment he made the worst possible mistake. Like it or not, that's choking. It's not the first time it's happened and it may not be the last. One Super Bowl win is great, but it doesn't mean those nine losses didn't happen.
Yesterday was a reminder that Peyton Manning, as great as he is, still doesn't quite belong in that truly elite category of winners. Maybe he's more like ... gasp ... Brett Favre. An insanely talented playmaker whose greatest strength—his willingness to place his team's entire fortunes on his throwing shoulder—is also his greatest weakness. Because you cannot win a Super Bowl that way. You can't win it by yourself.
Manning has tried desperately to raise everyone else on the Colts to his level—and done a pretty decent job, actually. But in the end, they all choke together. Again.
Saints trash Peyton Manning's legacy [Jason Whitlock]
Another disappointment for Peyton [Joe Posnanski]
Lone fourth-quarter turnover haunts Peyton Manning after loss [USA Today]
Manning beats an unhappy, hasty retreat [FoxNews]
Poll: Is Peyton Manning's legacy tarnished if he doesn't win another Super Bowl? [LA Times]