The true definition of a “legacy” isn’t found in newspapers or online or within the confines of a 140-character summation of something that happened 10 minutes ago.
You need to find the history books to pin down a person’s legacy, and those don’t roll off the press on deadline. They take time.
Joe Namath will always be the swashbuckling quarterback who helped change the NFL from a grunting collection of meat packers into something that approached celebrity beyond the narrow dimensions of a football field.
That will never change, even though Joe has a terrible taste in outerwear now and can’t seem to grasp that one must let a team captain call the coin toss before the coin is actually, well, tossed. Otherwise, it makes deciding heads or tails a lot easier. Namath is forgiven, however, because he is Namath, although the mink population of North America might have another view.
It seems, on instant review, that Peyton Manning will also be forgiven his transgressions, at least those that are still taking place on a football field. On Sunday, Manning came up very small against the Seattle Seahawks in what was one of the two most important football games of his 16-year career. Frankly, he was awful, which is a difficult proposition for a quarterback who at the same time set the record for completions (34) in a Super Bowl. But awful he was.
This is certainly a credit to the Seattle defense, but it doesn’t absolve Manning. Great quarterbacks — and, let’s get this straight, he’s a great quarterback — are supposed to overcome adversity in the biggest moments. That wasn’t the way this one turned out, though, but that’s difficult to remember amid the fawning aftermath of Denver’s 43-8 loss.
It is as if America doesn’t want to hurt Manning’s feelings, and there is a simple reason. America likes him. Perhaps it is because he is the ubiquitous purveyor of pizza, automobiles, sports drinks and television systems, coming into everyone’s home on a regular basis, always folksy, always affable, always playing the aw-shucks role of Peyton Manning, and he’s pretty darn good at it.
Manning may have also earned his lifetime pass by actually winning a Super Bowl along the way, even though that doesn’t put any meat on the table in Denver. Had Indianapolis not beaten a lackluster Chicago team seven years ago, there wouldn’t be the same sense that Manning was just one more win away from legend status, or at least would finally be able to hold his own at the family Thanksgiving table.
If that is the measure — that winning means something in the long run — then losing must mean something, too. The Philadelphia Eagles fan base does not generally judge Donovan McNabb, the greatest quarterback in franchise history, on his body of work, which included 92 wins, a ton of yards and touchdowns, and a 9-7 record in the postseason. He was a great quarterback, but he didn’t win his Super Bowl.
When the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots at the close of the 2004 season, McNabb had to bring his team from behind in a game that was tied after three quarters when the defense allowed two drives that led to 10 points. He didn’t do it and sandwiched one late touchdown drive with a pair of interceptions. On the day, he had a subpar quarterback rating of 75.4, and that game has sealed his legacy here.
Against Seattle on Sunday, Manning had a quarterback rating of 73.5, threw two interceptions and was the non-recipient of an errant snap that opened the game and set the tone for the entire evening. If McNabb didn’t get a pass after his performance — which was the unfortunate capper to a record-setting season — then Manning shouldn’t be allowed to put a Papa John’s box on the passenger seat and drive his Buick into a soft sunset, either.
Manning has a career postseason record of 11-12 now, and even the crowning moment of his Super Bowl win came in a one-touchdown, one-interception performance that earned just an 81.8 quarterback rating. He has had a great career. He’s a great quarterback. That said, it is still true that he is one lackluster win in 2007, not one humiliating loss on Sunday, from having his entire legacy written in a different way.
Seattle was the better team, without question. The bookmakers and point-spread gurus knew that two weeks ago when they made the Seahawks the favorites following the conference championship games. Super Bowl betting is enormous and it is sentimental, however, and America wanted Peyton Manning to win, pushing the line nearly five points in the other direction until the Broncos were 2 1/2-point favorites.
That’s a huge swing, and if nothing else, it speaks to the power of personality in swaying the allegiances of the public. People like Manning. They wanted him to win. Now, in the gauzy light of the new day, we’re being told that winning didn’t really matter all that much.
Oh, yes it does. Otherwise, we’ve been keeping score for way too long.