Wiedmer: Peyton's legacy keeps rising

Wiedmer: Peyton's legacy keeps rising

January 20th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports College08football

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, left, holds the trophy after the AFC Championship NFL playoff game against the New England Patriots in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 26-16 to advance to the Super Bowl.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Maybe Peyton Manning didn't invent the quarterback position. But that doesn't mean he hasn't perfected it. Especially if his Denver Broncos go on to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in New York City.

The guy's 37 years old, with a fused neck, yet he just threw for 400 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions to become a colossal pain in the neck for that supposed genius Bill Belichick's New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC title game.

Now in a Super Bowl for the third time in his grand career after that 26-16 win, (almost) Perfect Peyton can become the first quarterback in history to win football's biggest prize as the starter for two different teams if he can solve NFC champ Seattle's sensational defense 13 days from today.

And should that happen -- given all he's done otherwise this season, including setting the NFL record for most single-season TD passes with 55 and most yardage -- it becomes far more difficult to argue against him being the best ever than arguing for his spot atop the mountain.

No, this wasn't a great Patriots team that Manning and the Broncos beat on one of those unseasonably warm 60-degree days that he's unlikely to find in the Big Apple. It could even be argued that this may have been Belichick's best coaching job, given the injuries, defections and forced removals (tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail on murder charges, in case you forgot) the Pats endured all season.

Had the Broncos lost, it's also fairly believable to assume that Peyton might have been pummeled by his critics, once more unable to win the Big One against New England quarterback Tom Brady, who was 10-4 in head-to-head meetings with chief rival prior to Sunday.

Instead, Manning was masterful throughout, mixing the run and pass with both his usual brilliance and his newfound love for shouting "Omaha" while barking the signals. And while Brady twice missed wide-open receivers that might have made this one exciting to the finish, Peyton could have pounded a nail from 20 yards away with a BB, so accurate were his throws.

If the old line, "You're not getting older, you're getting better," ever found its perfect definition, it's Manning.

Or maybe it's Denver's mile high air. The great John Elway didn't win his first Super Bowl with the Broncos until he was 37. Then he won another the following season, riding off into the sunset as the game's MVP in the final game of his career.

Also just like Manning, Elway was the No. 1 overall pick of the Colts, though that came during the days they still called Baltimore home instead of Indianapolis. But unlike Manning, who spent his first 14 years in Indy -- leading the Colts to two Super Bowls and winning one -- Elway never played a down in Baltimore.

The Colts traded him to Denver, where he spent his entire playing career and is now executive vice president of football operations. Most believe it was Elway who had the biggest influence on Manning signing with the Broncos instead of San Francisco or Tennessee's Titans.

And now that recruitment has (almost) Perfect Peyton on the verge of ending almost all arguments about the Greatest Of All Time, if only because he'd be the only guy to guide two separate franchises to the mountain top.

It's not just the football records that speak to Manning's impact on both the game and society, however.

We've all had a lot of fun the past week over his use of "Omaha" prior to many snaps. My boss, Jay Greeson, suggested Chattanooga attempt to have our most famous part-time resident use our city's name instead of Omaha on his audibles. Both the NFL and representatives of Manning later seemed to dismiss similar notions nationally, hinting that it might somewhat cheapen the integrity of the game.

But a number of Omaha businesses -- without Manning's blessing, apparently -- decided to donate a combined $800 each time he said the word on Sunday. The count rising to 31, the eight Omaha businesses will deliver a check of $24,800 to Manning's Peyback Foundation, which donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2012 alone to help disadvantaged youth in the states of Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Of course, the Omaha chamber of commerce also estimated the city has received over $10 million in free advertising, so perhaps that amount to Peyton's charity should triple or quadruple for the Super Bowl.

Either way, Manning has clearly become a cultural icon far outside his native Louisiana, his former Indianapolis home or our Volunteer State, where he became the most famous football player in University of Tennessee history.

And now both Peyton and Omaha are about to become even bigger as we await the Broncos' Super Bowl date against Seahawks. We're about to have two weeks of analyzing where this places him historically among the game's best. Of how a win would give him as many Super Bowl rings as his younger brother Eli. Of how just as Eli won a Super Bowl for the New York Giants in Peyton's former home stadium in Indianapolis, Peyton can now win one on Eli's turf.

Moreover, let the Broncos prevail and there will instantly commence talk of whether or not Manning can follow Elway's script of capturing the Lombardi Trophy as both a 37- and 38-year-old, assuming (almost) Perfect Peyton doesn't decide this would be the perfect time to retire.

So what did the Hall of Famer Elway, the most popular Bronco ever, say of Manning on Sunday?

"Best year I've ever seen from a quarterback," was his analysis.

One more win and that should become a consensus opinion with one important change. It just may have become the best career we've ever seen from a quarterback.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com