Over the course of 16 NFL seasons, Peyton Manning’s legacy has begun to feel like a tangible being.
The former Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s place in league history will receive as much or more attention than any flesh-and-blood player this week as the countdown to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII continues in and around New York City.
The scene is not so different than it was four years ago, when Manning led the Colts to 14 straight victories to start the regular season and then to a berth in Super Bowl XLIV against the New Orleans Saints.
Conventional wisdom holds that Manning somehow needs a second championship in order to be called the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. Never mind that a win for his Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks still would leave him two titles behind Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw and one back of contemporary rival Tom Brady.
But that sort of faulty logic just highlights the absurdity of attempting to measure individual greatness across decades of change in a team sport. It makes for a fun man cave debate, but there is no correct answer.
And there never will be.
Sunday’s game offers a much more tidy debate.
It shapes up as a classic battle between the league’s top offense (Denver) and its best defense (Seattle), and there is no better fodder for pure debate. Does defense still win championships in an increasingly quarterback-driven league?
The Baltimore Ravens’ 34-31 victory against the San Francisco 49ers last year suggests not.
But there will be a few wild cards in play Sunday. A wet and windy evening could slow down the Broncos’ record-setting passing game and aid the Seahawks’ hard-hitting secondary. Likewise, a tightly officiated game could result in free yardage for Denver and force Seattle to alter its clutch-and-grab tactics.