Peyton Manning has been giving opposing defenses nightmares pretty much ever since he first picked up a football. But for almost just as long, the All-World QB has had to deal with a demon of his own: the public perception that he cannot perform on the big stage. Cornerbacks with cheetah-like speed and instincts never cause him much of a problem. Neither do 280-pound linebackers.
But despite all Peyton Manning’s awards and honors, he’s never been able to shake those sports talk radio callers, web bloggers, and armchair fans who refer to themselves as “experts.”
No professional athlete in today’s world has had to unjustly wear the “choker” label as long as Peyton Manning. It’s a branding of sorts that has haunted him even after winning a super bowl.
For his entire professional career, Peyton Manning has been a nationwide whipping boy in the arena of public opinion. From Boston to Los Angeles. From Kissimmee to Kalamazoo. The national media (such as those at ESPN, the AP, and Sports Illustrated) to its credit, recognized Peyton’s greatness years ago. This is evident in just how full Manning’s personal trophy is by this point.
But over the years, Peyton has been constantly badgered by a percentage of “fans” who wait, hibernate, and stay tight-lipped each Autumn as he compiles one great regular season after another. But in January, without fail, they awaken to once again revel in delight when the opportunity arises yet again to proclaim, “See I told you. Manning’s a choke artist.”
But for the second time in four years, Peyton Manning is on the verge of never giving his nay-sayers that opportunity.
Peyton’s career playoff record is 9-8. Not great. But respectable, considering he's played his entire career in the power-packed AFC. He 's also has six playoff wins in the past four seasons.
Brett Favre, by comparison, has just four playoff wins in the last 12 years.
Then there’s Tony Romo. Does anyone feel sorry for him having to tolerate all that “choker talk” for the past four seasons? Don't. Peyton’s had to endure that sort of stuff for three times as long.
Manning’s victory in Super Bowl XLI should have put an end to all the “choker” nonsense. That win sent the bulk of Peyton’s critics retreating to the hills. But not all. Small groupings of haters hung around, staying firm by their convictions. They watched as Manning and his Colts lost to the seemingly inferior San Diego Chargers in each of the past two postseasons. And they’ve used those recent playoff letdowns as ammunition to further their claims that he is a “choker,” regardless of what happened in Miami three February’s ago.
Let’s think back to the 2006 Playoffs.
That postseason seemed to end with Manning finally earning his long-awaited “day in the sun.” But the Peyton-haters out there found ways to deflate his accomplishments every step of the way.
They said the Colts’ revitalized defense won those first two playoff games against Kansas City and Baltimore. Peyton didn’t deserve the credit. They said the New England Patriots (unquestionably the most hated professional sports team in the universe right now) choked at the end of that epic AFC title game. Peyton didn’t deserve the credit. They said Peyton got lucky in the super bowl, getting to play a Rex Grossman-led Bears team whose only scoring weapon was its kick returner Devin Hester.
No way Peyton could out-perform a real QB in a super bowl. They said Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes should have shared that Super Bowl MVP award. Peyton didn’t deserve to win it. They said Peyton’s super bowl win was a fluke.
But even the most dedicated Peyton bully knows that two world championships in four years is no fluke.
It’s nine letters: greatness.
A win on Sunday would make Manning just the 10th QB in NFL history to attain at least two super bowl titles in a four-year span (Ben Roethlisberger accomplished the same feat last season). He’d also be just the third QB to ever win two super bowls that were played in the same city. Roger Staubach helped the ’71 and ’77 Cowboys do it in New Orleans. Terry Bradshaw guided the ’75 and ’78 Steelers in Miami (back when they played in the Orange Bowl, not Dolphins Stadium).
But most importantly, a win would allow Peyton to shed every fragment of the “choker” label he’s unjustly worn since the Clinton Administration.
Years from now, Peyton Manning might be known as the greatest QB in the history of the NFL. A win on Sunday would go a long way in adding validity to that statement.
Either way, it’ll take an awful lot to dethrone whoever people consider the greatest of all time: Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, John Elway? Take your pick.
Does Manning have a shot of being the greatest ever? Well, he’s been proving his critics wrong for the past decade. So why should anyone continue to doubt him? One more win on Sunday, and even the most staunch Peyton-haters won’t have an answer for that.