With the win, Manning will compete for the Lombardi Trophy for the third time in his career, and the Broncos wouldn't have gotten to this point without him. He was incredible against the Patriots, too, passing for 400 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Manning has long had his detractors—those who point to his sub-.500 record in postseason play and his mere one championship ring. But those who judge a quarterback solely on wins and losses miss the big picture: The NFL is a team sport.
Furthermore, even great teams fail to seal the deal. Remember the 1990s Buffalo Bills? That team reached the Super Bowl four years in a row but was defeated every time.
Manning was clear about how difficult it is to reach the pinnacle of his sport after beating the Patriots on Jan. 19, as noted by CNN's Rachel Nichols:
Peyton Manning after the win: "I'm telling you, it's hard to get to the Super Bowl. It's hard to win it, but it's hard to get there."— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) January 20, 2014
Now Manning has reached the Super Bowl with two separate teams, and he's beaten New England's golden child twice to do it. Only two other quarterbacks in the history of the league—Craig Morton and Kurt Warner—have reached the Super Bowl with two teams, and neither of them won with the second team (Morton didn't win either time).
So, even if you subscribe to the ridiculous notion that wins equal quarterbacking greatness, then Manning can cross "clutch" and "winning big games" off the list.
As if he needed to.
At this point in his career, Manning has already broken a multitude of NFL single-season records—including the passing and touchdowns records this past year—and is No. 2 behind only Brett Favre in career passing yards and touchdowns.
Which QB is the "best"?
His stats already make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but an 8-11 career postseason record before the current playoffs gave his doubters what they thought was legitimate ammunition for their attacks.
But that's extremely debatable to start with.
Even before the critical AFC Championship Game victory over Brady's Patriots, Manning was arguably a "better" playoff quarterback than his legendary counterpart, argues B/R's Scott Kacsmar on his Captain Comeback Wordpress blog. He also makes an excellent point about how good fortune plays a role:
People don’t like to hear it, but at some point you have to chalk up the record to better team play and downright good fortune. You know, it’s a team game after all, but for some reason every Marvin Harrison dropped ball or Edgerrin James fumble is overlooked because god forbid Deion Branch or Kevin Faulk could make those plays for Brady. (They did).
But now all those arguments are moot.
Manning has gotten to the title game three times now, and only 11 other quarterbacks in the history of the league can claim the same, two of whom never won the big game.
His legacy never should have been in question to start with, but now there's no more room for doubt.
Now that Manning is playing for his second championship, and after beating Brady in the AFC Championship Game to do it both times, nobody can say he's not one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the league.
The only thing left to wonder at this point is: Will Manning come back for another grueling season if he and the Broncos win the Super Bowl?
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78