Reporting from SB XLVIII: Part Two – Legacy

by John Delach

Last December, while standing in a Stop and Shop check-out line, I spied the front cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated that proclaimed Peyton Manning to be the “Sportsman of the Year.” His face filled the front cover of the magazine with the top of his head cut off giving the illusion that he was bald. This image of Manning shocked me. I realized a fact I had never considered: Peyton Manning was no longer forever young.

Moreover, as I gazed at the face of this 37-year-old warrior, I thought, “Good grief, he looks just like Y. A. Tittle, the Bald Eagle, back in 1962 when I first became a Giants’ season ticket holder. “Good God Almighty, I said out loud, I definitely do not need this shocking reminder of my own mortality!”

Y.A. was a great quarterback beloved when he played for the Giants, but his record was incomplete; he never won the big game.

Manning, too is incomplete. His career and Tom Brady’s are locked in time together as being the two most dominant quarterbacks in the NFL during their era. But going into Sunday’s contest, Manning had only been to two Super Bowls winning one while Brady had been to five, winning three.

Last Sunday, in this the greatest season of his storied career, Peyton Manning showed that he may be the “All American Eagle.” One game to go, Super Bowl XLVIII and he will be deemed, argumentally, the greatest quarterback to ever to play this game. But, winning his second Super Bowl is still paramount to anyone, including me, before bestowing such an honor upon him.

If the Broncos had lost the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, we would be reading that as great a quarterback as Peyton has been for all of the years, despite all of the amazing records he has set and all of the honors bestowed upon him; he could not measure up to the combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the post-season. Simply put, “He could not win the big game.”

If, Belichick, the coach, and, Brady, the quarterback, had been victorious in Denver on Sunday and were now leading the Patriots to New Jersey for an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl appearance, the football world would have been prepared to proclaim, Tom Brady: “King,” the best of his era. Likewise, the scribes, pundits and all the radio and television personalities would have been floating the idea that Coach Belichick was as good as or better than Vince Lombardi.

As for Peyton Manning, he would have been cast into a personal state of limbo as the other guy: great, but not when it mattered.

And yet, when it mattered as it did on Sunday, Manning threw for 400 yards and led his team to scores on all of their drives except the first which ended in a punt and the last which ended with the Broncos running out the clock. A brilliant performance.

The local Long Island newspaper, Newsday, boldly proclaimed their  sports headline on Sunday: “Manning vs. Brady: One for the Ages.”

Overstated, perhaps, but this was a contest between the two best and most dominate quarterbacks of this era. Personally, my head was with the Pats, but my heart was with the Broncos. Both of their head coaches, Belichick and John Fox were defensive coordinators in the Giants’ organization, we have family who are huge Patriot fans and that Denver chap’s brother, Eli, is our starting quarterback. But, Brady already has won enough pelts to guarantee his legacy; Manning needed this one badly.

If you cut me, I bleed Giants’ blue, which ordinarily makes me a NFC guy. But not this Super Bowl. Sorry, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, the young stud quarterbacks in the NFC. No offense to these two exciting players who could very well own the next era of the NFL quarterbacks. My reasoning has nothing to do with them.

Their teams played a hell of a contest on Sunday. Kaepernick led his 49ers into Seattle’s Thunderdome without intimidation and fought the good fight to the end. Wilson took a licking, kept on ticking and prevailed thanks to an interception following a tip bya big mouth named Sherman.

Although their clash on Sunday’s NFC Championship Game was the second game played in prime time, I think we can all agree that it was the under-card to the main event despite the League’s decision to schedule it as the late semi-prime time game. Real prime time belonged to the afternoon AFC Championship match up.

And now, can Peyton Manning fulfill his destiny, or will the upstart kid, their obnoxious coach, a talented team and a tough defense say no to that? Or will Mother Nature rule the day declaring that all bets are off?

Stay tuned.

(Two weeks remain to see how this plays out. Next week I will report to you on my experience touring Super Bowl Boulevard (a.k.a. Broadway) and I promise to be there regardless of the weather. My last Super Bowl posting will review the damages after the tents have come down and the circus has left town.)