We've crossed that Rubicon with Manning, but pundits and talking heads have somehow been left behind. This Super Bowl is being painted as some sort of kingmaker for Manning, as if we couldn't see the crown already atop his voluptuous forehead.
Honestly, it's a little sad that people are missing the forest for the trees on this. We exist in such an in-the-moment atmosphere of 24/7 cable news, ESPN, tickers and tweets, debate embracing and context effacing that we forget any semblance of reality outside of the moment.
Peyton Manning's legacy is in doubt because he's an all time great quarterback and a fine man. If I were him I'd be sad and unfulfilled.— Matt Crossman (@MattCrossman_) January 12, 2014
In this moment, is Manning worried about the Super Bowl? Sure. In 20 years, are we going to look back and remember this moment as the crux of his entire career? Almost certainly not, win or lose.
That's how history works. Battles are won, battles are lost, and we remember the great warriors and generals—even rhetorical ones like football players—without hemming and hawing about every single moment of their career.
Consider former Miami Dolphins passer Dan Marino. Is there any question he's one of the greatest quarterbacks and Isotoner spokesmen of all time? No, there's not even a little question on either of those points.
I suppose it's possible to claim a statement like that is subjective, and there's probably some pockets of certified Marino haters out there. Still, it's a generally accepted truth and objectively regarded as fact.
Yet, remember all the times the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Jim Kelly kicked Marino's backside in the playoffs? If Twitter were around back in the Marino-Kelly era, there's little doubt we'd have been having this same discussion then.
We'd get to listen to critics bloviate about how Denver Broncos great John Elway needed to win one without running back Terrell Davis, or some nonsense like that.
That's what it is, nonsense.
There are no more "legacy" games for Peyton Manning. His legacy is set. He can only add to it. Nothing takes away from it.— Joe Casale (@sportsJC16) January 19, 2014
Let's run down what Manning has done in the NFL: He's been to 13 Pro Bowls and named to seven AP All Pro first teams. Five times, he's been the AP NFL MVP. Eight times, he's been the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. (He might end up adding to those last two in a few weeks.) He's been a Comeback Player of the Year, a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and a Walter Payton Man of the Year. He's got a Super Bowl trophy, a Super Bowl MVP trophy and an ESPY.
If World War Z ever breaks out, we're all meeting at the Manning house to melt down all that hardware into bullets—no two ways about it.
Manning could have been done. In many respects, without the benefit of hindsight, it's possible to argue he should have been done. Remember just a few years ago when we were questioning whether he had experimental stem cell therapy? (He did.) Better yet, remember when Manning had to throw in hiding at Duke University because his arm was too weak to show the public?
Yet, we have the benefit of hindsight. We get to admit that those of us who doubted him—even in the slightest—were terribly wrong. Manning isn't the physical specimen he was when he was 25, but he's a better quarterback because of the many things he does to mitigate his physical shortcomings.
It starts in the film room, days and even weeks before meeting an opponent. When Manning breaks the huddle (if he even has one), he's still working, dissecting the defense before it even knows it's dead—like a football version of Dexter.
Before the snap, after the snap and with every moment of anticipation before the throw, Manning is moving and thinking at speeds that make up for any velocity lost on his throws. He's that damn good.
Legacy? Why in the world are we talking about Manning's legacy? He could've retired as a broken man and still maintained a legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game. Instead, he rebuilt himself and came back possessed to climb the mountaintop once again.
Now that he's nearing the top, we're supposed to listen as idiots throw shade? Please...
Make no mistake about it: Manning wants this. He needs it in a way completely unrelated to "legacy" talk. He needs this Super Bowl in an existential manner most of us will never understand. He needs this in an alpha-male, A-type personality sort of way.
He needs this the same way he needs to wake up at ungodly hours of the morning and put in reps that no one else would even fathom. He needs this because this is what he's here for. He didn't rehab, join the Denver Broncos or woo wide receiver Wes Welker for regular-season success or AFC championships.
More correctly, Manning wants this. He wants it in a primal fashion that exceeds mere desire and becomes something all-consuming and a driving force.
Manning's legacy is fine. He's not going out there to win this Super Bowl for you. He doesn't need you to have another piece of evidence for his Hall of Fame bust. He's going out there to win this for himself.
That's why he's already one of the best.