Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Our Peyton Manning Legacy Dilemma

By Charlie Scaturro

Wrapped up in the immense buzz surrounding this weekend’s AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Broncos is how much this game means for Peyton Manning’s legacy. It’s been pounded into our heads in recent weeks that one of the most highly decorated regular season quarterbacks in NFL history (perhaps the most decorated) owns a pedestrian, even below average, 10-11 record in the postseason. And naturally, we’ve been trying to make sense of why a player who has been so dominant in the regular season only has one Super Bowl title to his credit. Of course, it does go a bit further than the fact that his brother, Eli, has more rings than he does. Over the years, Peyton’s teams have endured a number of early playoff disappointments after extraordinary, sometimes record-setting, regular season play.

Trying to make sense of this entire exercise has certainly been a difficult thing for us to digest as a sports culture. You could argue that the majority of the blame falls on Peyton as the leader of of those teams, and the fact that his playoff performance hasn’t been up to the impossibly high standard he’s set for himself year in and year out. You could argue that many of those Indianapolis teams didn’t have a defense or running game that offered Manning much help. You could argue that Manning ran into some great teams in the playoffs (most notably, Tom Brady and the Patriots), and couldn't quite beat them.

You could argue a million different things, but maybe Peyton Manning’s career is more complicated than we’re trying to make it. We want everything to fit into a convenient narrative (“this guy can’t get it done in the playoffs. He’s not clutch”) and when things don’t follow a certain narrative (or plan), we start obsessing over a question to the point where the conversation falls off a cliff. The truth is, it’s a nuanced question that probably has no definitive answer, or at least no answer that most people would be satisfied with.

Football is a team sport in the truest sense of the word, one in which any given player is only on the field for roughly half the game at best. Add in the fact that the playoffs, unlike every other major professional sport, are single elimination, and this leaves things much more open to chance plays, officiating, and good old-fashioned luck. It’s not inconceivable to watch the NFL postseason and come to the conclusion that sometimes the best team didn’t win. In basketball or baseball over the course of a 7 game series, it’s far more likely that the best team will emerge victorious.

In football, you’ve got 60 minutes as opposed to six or seven games. If two teams are very closely matched, one bad bounce, one questionable call, or one amazing catch can easily mean the difference between advancing in the playoffs and having to answer questions about why you couldn’t get it done. And that’s fine.

The NFL postseason is structured the same way for every player and team. But it’s indescribably fascinating to me that Peyton’s career is being judged the way it has been in recent weeks to the point where some people will think he's a failure if the Broncos come up short this weekend against the Patriots, or if they can’t quite get the job done against the 49ers or Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Maybe that sentiment stems from the fact that we simply don’t know what to do with a player like Manning, who it could be argued, is the best quarterback of all time, but one who has consistently disappointed for the majority of the time in the playoffs, therefore by some reasoning not making him the best quarterback of all-time.

Maybe there’s a player, even a quarterback, whose place in history is a little tougher to determine than just looking at their W/L record, or playoff success. Then again, maybe such a player doesn’t exist, or at the very least, we won’t allow him to exist.

Ultimately, we have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that some things are more complicated than we would like them to be and that everything in life isn’t as simple as ‘if you win you’re good, and if you lose you’re bad’. But often times that’s the only way we can make sense of things. Resigning ourselves to the idea that Peyton Manning’s place in history isn’t something we can easily quantify is a scary thought because not only does that mean there is no answer, but by acknowledging there is no answer we now have nothing to talk about. And you can’t have that.

No comments:

Post a Comment