Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning faces the game of his life Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII, perhaps one that will define his legacy when it's all said and done.
Michael Parente - MP@990WBOB.com
The Peyton Manning Fan Club breathed a heavy sigh of relief two weeks ago when the Broncos slaughtered the Patriots in the AFC championship.
At least he didn’t lose to that guy again, right?
But the journey is far from over. While some teams consider big games against their heated rivals as their version of the Super Bowl, World Series, or whatever championship is applicable in their respective sport, it’s not enough for Manning and the Broncos to simply skate past New England and call it a season, not when the bar has been set so incredibly high.
Sunday is Manning’s Super Bowl. It’s everyone’s Super Bowl. And, to some, it’s the game that might define his legacy, fair or unfair. Tom Brady, who has been Manning’s natural rival since the rise of the Patriots’ dynasty more than a decade ago, knows the feeling of having to win the big game in fear of the entire season being deemed a failure in the court of public opinion. As Brady can attest, you win some and lose some. Former teammate and three-time Super Bowl champion Patrick Pass says the teams no one thought would win (namely the 2001 version) were far more relaxed than the 2003 and 2004 teams that each won 14 regular-season games and back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Those modern-day juggernauts handled the pressure just fine, yet three years later with history and another title on the line, the 18-0, unbeaten Patriots lost to the underdog Giants in Super Bowl XLII, spoiling their opportunity to become the first team to finish undefeated since the league switched to a 16-game regular season format in 1978.
This year’s Broncos didn’t finish the regular season with a goose egg in the loss column – they only won 13 games – but they broke nearly every offensive record set by the aforementioned ’07 Patriots, setting a new standard among NFL powerhouses, and Manning himself broke Brady’s record of 50 touchdown passes with 55, so the pressure is as intense now for Denver as it was for New England seven years ago.
NFL history shows us there’s no real yearly pattern for success or failure among the league’s undisputed giants. We’ve seen top seeds go up in flames (remember the 15-1 Vikings in ’98?) and we’ve seen the dynasties do what they do best, like the mid-90s Cowboys and 49ers. Interestingly enough, only six times since 1990 – a span of 25 years – has the team with the best record won the Super Bowl, and five occurred in the ‘90s. It hasn’t happened since 2003 when the Patriots beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. That’s a decade of futility by No. 1 seeds, including the 2008 Titans, who flamed out in the divisional round, the 2010 Patriots, who were stunned by the Jets at Gillette Stadium and the 15-1 Green Bay Packer team that lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the divisional playoffs in 2011.
The Broncos are prohibitive favorites, which means more pressure on Manning – again. He’s 1-1 lifetime in Super Bowls, both with Indianapolis, shaking the monkey off his back in 2006 before losing to the Saints in 2009. Had the outcome of that losing effort not hinged on a critical pick-six with the Colts trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the general public might’ve been more forgiving. If the Colts lost because their defense allowed the other team to march down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes, like what the Patriots did twice against the Giants, maybe Sunday’s game wouldn’t be considered such a necessary addition to Manning’s resume, but that loss in ’09 gave the on-the-fencers a reason to hop back on the Chokeville said of the gate.
A win Sunday would remove all doubt about Manning’s ability to win the “big one,” assuming his methodical, surgeon-like win over the Patriots two weeks ago wasn’t enough to change your mind. If he handles the Seahawks’ pressure as well as he handled all the legacy talk this week by simply sidestepping the oncoming rush, he’ll be just fine.
This is as big for Manning as it is for the Broncos. When they signed Manning in 2012 after he had already had four surgeries on his neck, they were rolling the dice on a 36-year-old quarterback who hadn’t played in more than a year. Manning’s 37 now, so the window of opportunity is closing quickly. A loss would be deflating for both Manning’s legacy – again, fair or unfair – and for the Broncos, who will soon have to consider life without Manning, perhaps as early as next year depending on what his post-Super Bowl medical exams dictate he should do.
Hold your breath, because neither Manning nor the Broncos are out of the woods just yet.
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