I enjoyed Sunday's Super Bowl, more for the crisp game play and athletic drama than for the question that was bandied about in media circles the week before: if Peyton Manning wins, will he go down as the greatest of all time?
Look, Peyton is a wonderful quarterback who will ultimately go down with most of the league's meaningful passing records. At 32, he still has six or seven gravy years to go, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him get another two championships under his belt. The way the Colts draft, that team will continue to be competitive for years to come.
That said, any talk of the best ever is premature. He was outplayed again by the guy across the field, as Drew Brees completed just about everything he threw after the first quarter. That's a gunslinger, and a guy who made the clutch throws. Peyton threw a pick-six, which is another in a long line of underwhelming performances for a QB whose postseason record is 9-9.
Of course this list is subjective. And of course, my football knowledge is limited to the fact that I've only really been paying attention to pro football since the middle 1980s. That said, with an eye toward a history that I'm interested in, and with input from friends and family, here is my list:
1) John Elway: I'm a Denver fan, and I know this sounds biased, but he threw for 300 touchdowns and passed for over 50,000 yards. He made a lot of plays with his legs, running for 33 touchdowns, and he was the master of the fourth-quarter comeback. He almost single-handedly took mediocre Denver teams to the Super Bowl (and yeah, there were some blowouts in there), and he won a couple late in his career. He went out at the top of his sport, and he always handled himself with class and style.
2) Joe Montana: a gritty, never-say-die gunslinger, Joe Montana could really pass the ball. He was almost unstoppable on some of those '80s 49ers squads, and his cool demeanor in the face of pressure was his trademark. From his part in "The Catch" to his dominating Super Bowl wins, Joe Montana is, for many, the NFL gold standard.
3) John Unitas: my dad's favorite player and a true warrior of the game, Unitas made the Pro Bowl ten times. Looking at his career stats, you see the dominance in the sheer number of statistical categories he lead throughout his career. He tossed the ball around the yard and is probably most responsible for the type of football that is played in the NFL today.
4) Brett Favre: A guy who surprised everyone with his performance this year, Brett is a tough guy with an unbelievable arm. He's a winner and maybe the most entertaining QB to watch in the history of football. He attempts throws most quarterbacks wouldn't dream about, and sometimes he even pulls them off.
5) Dan Marino: I loved watching Dan play while growing up. I could watch Marino to Clayton all day, and many Sundays I did. He stood like a tower in the pocket, pass rushers flying all around him, and delivered the ball on time and in style throughout his career. A stat god who never won the big one, Dan is a good example of how great players need help to win championships.
6) Tom Brady: I can't understand how folks put Peyton ahead of Brady. Three championships. Some amazing records (the dude threw fifty touchdowns one year; he had six last year in the first half against the Titans). And he did most of it with receivers like Troy Brown, Deion Branch and Jabar Gaffney. Tom will move up this list before it's all said and done. He'll have a monster year in 2010/11, I think.
7) Terry Bradshaw: a tough guy with four Super Bowl wins--'nuff said.
8) Peyton Manning: a fantastic regular season player with uncanny timing and a true knack for field leadership. The simple fact is, though, that he should have a few more championships. With Harrison, Faulk, Wayne and Clark around him through the years, you'd think he'd have made it happen. His story still needs a third act, so we'll see if he can overcome the big-game mistakes he's made in the past and rise to the occasion.
9)Warren Moon: a personal favorite who could sling the potato, he threw 291 touchdowns in an abbreviated NFL career. You could never count the Oilers or, for that matter, the Vikes out when he was at the controls.
10)Bart Starr: I'll defer to John Clayton on this one.
Peyton seems like a good man. We know he's a great player. But until he gets his postseason record over .500, let's not anoint him the greatest ever to play the position.
And on another note, if the NFLPA and the owners go to a work stoppage, then they might as well just cancel the league. If they turn their backs on an American public that just posted the greatest ratings in the history of television, then they'll lose their business to greed--as simple as that. Just ask the NHL how that worked out for them (or the NBA or MLB, for that matter)...