I didn’t have to look far to create a catchy, link-bait-y title for this article. It’s a question that the sports media has repeatedly asked in the interminable lead-up to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Of course, it isn’t the only one. Others include: “Which team has the edge?” “Who is the x-factor?” and “How will the weather affect the game?” But while these other questions are trite and useless because no one has any real idea of what will happen on Sunday, the Manning question is far more interesting to consider because of what it represents.
The Manning question isn’t engrossing because it’s a legitimate question. No, it’s fascinating because it is yet another indictment on the way our 24-hour news cycle attempts to force us into thinking a particular way, even about sporting events, which are for all intents and purposes inconsequential. Since networks like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have so many hours of programming to fill and are in such a desperate competition for viewership, the networks have taken to an extremely reductive and sensationalistic way of presenting news and topics that are — I think I can safely say about 99 percent of the time — not straightforward or really all that scandalous.
For the most part (thankfully there are wonderful exceptions), the sports media world isn’t all that different. And because of a need to build a narrative and to reach the lowest common denominator of sports fan, we get questions like the title of this article, which allow gasbags and pundits to provide undemanding and overly dramatic answers.
These type of responses might make for “great” TV or they might drive up a writer’s page views, but they are unbelievably dumb. There is not an ounce of perspective in them. Manning’s legacy is already set: He is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game and probably the best of his generation. A single game won’t change that no matter how big it is, because it can’t rewrite Manning’s career.
Manning is statistically superior to his contemporaries in almost every category. He has 100 more touchdown passes in his career than both Tom Brady and Drew Brees and, barring some major injury or drastic slip in performance, will surpass Brett Favre’s total of 508 next season. Of his three major contemporaries, only Brees has a higher completion percentage (and it’s only by four tenths of a percentage point). In 2006, Manning recorded the highest total QBR in a single season since the stat has been recorded.
Comparing Manning to the historically great quarterbacks is more of a challenge both because advanced passing metrics didn’t exist during their careers and NFL offenses have evolved from a run-heavy model to the more pass-friendly style of today’s game. Still, Manning boasts a higher career completion percentage — the stat that should be the most objectively comparable no matter the era — than guys like Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas.
Now, if you want to argue whether Manning is the greatest ever at the position, that’s a different topic than what Manning’s legacy is. But, unlike the status of his legacy, there’s really no way to definitively answer it. Due to the previously mentioned evolution of the game, it’s incredibly difficult to compare players from drastically different eras.
But that won’t stop the media from trying. The gasbags will scream about his playoff record and that “he couldn’t win the big game.” That would be a fine rationalization if Manning were the only player out on the field. But, unlike basketball where the team with the best player usually wins or tennis where it’s one-on-one, football is much more dependent on the team as a whole. If the best quarterback won every year, then there’s no way guys like Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson or even Eli Manning would have Super Bowl rings. Manning or Brady or Brees would win every single year and, as you probably know, that just doesn’t happen.
Therefore, when writers or pundits point to Manning’s lone Super Bowl victory and use it as a way to find fault with his career, it’s a pretty weak argument. Sure, Manning’s playoff record is only 11-11 up until Sunday’s game, but those Indianapolis Colts teams he played on weren’t all that great and neither are these Denver teams if we’re being honest. Yes, the offenses have been impressive because of Manning, but the defenses have usually been pretty mediocre. The talent on Manning’s teams doesn’t stack up with Bradshaw’s Steelers, Starr’s Packers, or Montana’s 49ers.
So, will a loss to the Seattle Seahawks keep him from being the best ever? Well … maybe. It really depends on how you choose to define “the best ever.” But to decide Manning’s entire legacy on a game where a Knowshon Moreno fumble or a Steve Hauschka field goal could be the deciding factor is shortsighted at best and foolish at worst.
Of course, all of this won’t stop the sports media from forcing the Manning isn’t clutch/is greatest ever story down your throat, depending on the outcome of the game. They most certainly will because of the nature of the 24-hour news cycle. There has to be something to talk about after all, it has to be easily digestible, and it always helps if the story is as sensational as possible.
That paradigm won’t change even if we choose not to gobble up this easy narrative and demand something better. But, if we do want to change the way the media works, we’ll have to start somewhere, right?
This seems like as good a place as any to me.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Someone Please Hire Me to do This
♦ Viral Video of the Week: FLOTUS Dunks on Everyone
♦ Friday Food News; or, MY BRAIN EXPLODED AFTER I LEARNED THIS SHOCKING FOOD NEWS
♦ The Best Hockey You’re Not Watching
♦ Viral Video of the Week: This is What Your Animals are Doing While You’re Away