Opinion: What Peyton Manning left behind

Matt Poe

The inevitable has finally arrived, served hot on a silver platter by Father Time. Peyton Manning has finally decided to call it a career, 18 long seasons in the NFL for number 18. Aside from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for a second and final time this past season, his statistical career limped to the finish line rather than go out with a bang as we’d grown accustomed to seeing.

The Sheriff saddles up and rides elsewhere, leaving behind many things cemented in history and others yet to transpire. Make no mistake about it: he doesn’t leave the game as the greatest quarterback of all time. He doesn’t even leave it as the greatest quarterback of his generation. What he does leave behind is a career that was, at times, brilliant, woeful at others and a legacy beyond just the record books.

It’s almost blasphemy to say Manning isn’t the greatest quarterback of all-time. My generation never got to see Bradshaw, Montana, Marino and Elway play, so it’s a stretch even just comparing Manning to these guys. However, not seeing those guys play, it’s easy to say he’s the greatest of all-time because of the 24-hour news cycle and highlight upon highlight of him at our disposal.

He’s not the greatest because we got to see Tom Brady play for almost as long, doubling up Peyton’s pair of Super Bowls and putting himself rightfully in the conversation of possibly the greatest quarterback ever. If you got Manning behind a closed door or wired to a polygraph test, I’d bet he’d trade his records of most passing yards, most passing touchdowns and most MVPs for those two extra Super Bowls.

When you think about all the weapons he had: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Wes Welker, it’s no surprise he was able to put up the numbers he did. We’ll always wonder what could have been had he had better defenses in Indianapolis; but is he one of the best ever? Yes. Is he the best ever? I’ll answer that with a firm no and listen to your rebuttal.    

Comparing championships as the “be all, end all” for all athletes can be so mundane, and often overshadows how truly great an athlete is or was. This was always the case with Peyton. But for all his numbers, for all his accomplishments, heartbreaks, championships, endorsements and cash money, Peyton Manning leaves behind two major achievements that cannot be measured by any stat.

As the great radio host Dan Patrick mentioned earlier this week, Peyton’s preparation was unprecedented; no quarterback has ever consumed as much game film and pre-game preparation. It’s almost to the point of obsessive micromanaging to control all things. He changed not just how quarterbacks prepared, but how athletes in general prepared.

The second impact Manning leaves behind is intangible: he inspired an entire generation of kids to play football. I know he was one of the main reasons I wanted to play football as a little kid. As a seven-year-old, I was beyond excited to see him play, but now I can actually grasp how cool it is to say I saw one of the best to ever play.

So Manning leaves behind many things: He leaves behind a few scandals in a career largely unmarked by such things. He leaves behind a career that should have produced more. He leaves behind a generation of kids who wanted to wear #18 because of him. He leaves behind all these things, more or less, along with the end of an epoch in his life and in sports. 

Matt Poe is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].