Thursday, February 11, 2016

THINGS WE LEARNED FROM SUPER BOWL 50: Peyton's Place

Leading up to Super Bowl 50, there was an innocuous stat which related something to the fact that the team wearing the white version of their uniform had won an alarming percentage of the games versus the team wearing colored uniforms in the last dozen or so Super Bowls. There also was the awareness that if Peyton Manning won this championship battle against the mighty Carolina Panthers he would then have the right to claim the sole spot at the top of the heap as the quarterback with the most wins of all time. An even 200 on the left side of the ledger. The ultimate referendum for his case as arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Oh, and by the way, he would also be the first quarterback, ever, to win a Super Bowl for two different teams. It's not that those things mattered. It's just that they were some things to consider, heading into the big game.

Kobe Bryant had a throwback game for the ages the other night, scoring a game high 38, at the feeble age of 38, to lead his Los Angeles Lakers to a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He, like Manning, is approaching almost two decades playing the respective sport in which they have  dominated. He, like Manning, is on the precipice of calling it a career, with Manning yet to officially sign-off on the notion the he is all but washed up. It brought to mind a certain sentiment entering Super Bowl 50. Could Manning, at the geriatric age of 39, win one for his own personal Gipper? Could he dig in deep to that bag of tools and find the right piece for the job one more time for one more game? Could we see a rendition of a renaissance similar to the one Bryant had drawn only days earlier? The odds seemed unlikely, and judging by the sub-200 yards of total offense that the Denver Broncos generated (the lowest ever for a Super Bowl winning team mind you) for the entire game, that moment most certainly never came to pass. 

It didn't need to. And most importantly it didn't have to. Manning has spent the better part of his career being the focal point of his team's attack. Even in Indianapolis, during the heyday of the Colt's version of the Dallas Cowboys Triplets, it was he who took the brunt of the blame when a team he had once again positioned to get into the playoffs faltered, whether by his efforts or lack thereof. Throughout his career he was the quarterback every scout, coach, and fan knew he could and would be coming out of the University of  Tennessee: the ultimate franchise quarterback. The guy who could win three or four games in a season on his own, for the same team he was guiding perennially to ten-plus wins in a season every year, when it was just part of the expectations that were placed upon him. His naysayers would always mention that he could not even compare to his brother Eli, because he had won two Super Bowls with the Giants. Now that Peyton has won two Super Bowls, for two different teams and won 200 games, the first quarterback ever to hold this distinction (he can now cross those two things off of his NFL bucket list), there is no way (as of right now) that you can compare baby brother to big bro. This was never Eli's cross to bear, rather it was Peyton's really. It became his reality. Every season. And, most often, he would fulfill those expectations. Not that this is a referendum on the middlingness of one Eli Manning, although he has won two Super Bowls he has also anchored teams that have missed the playoffs entirely in multiple seasons. A disparaging remark which could never be made about Peyton (at least when he was healthy). Much is made about the futile efforts of Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills in their four forays into the "big game." However, not enough credit and appreciation is given for the sustained success of taking care of business in the regular season, and giving one's team a shot at contending for a title almost every year of one's career. This, as of now, is the definition of the difference between Peyton Manning and Eli Manning's respective careers. But this is not that time, nor that place...

So then, it was not necessary for Peyton to have a stellar game. The type of game that he's produced before. He has had those types of games before and still his teams would let him down. This victory in Super Bowl 50, which may have brought an end to this particular part of his career arc, would prove, just as the pitcher who pitches great and loses, or better yet, pitches poorly and wins, that which we all knew. That he has justly deserved a 2nd Super Bowl win for some time now. So it was that he relied on the strength of this 2015 version of the Denver Broncos. A team who, just two Super Bowls ago, fell prey to the type of defense they employed against the Panthers on Sunday night. The type of defense that makes you feel their hits. Years, even eras, later.

Another general sentiment amongst this scribe leading up to this game was the possibility that this current version of Orange Crush could be one for the ages. Would we be talking about them in the same manner that we do championship winning defenses like the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens? Judging by the expression on the up-till-that-point seemingly invincible Cam Newton's face it was definitely a defense for the ages. One of the Panthers players, okay it was Brandon Marshall, was overheard in winning locker room after the game saying something to the effect of how proud he was to play for the team that had the "best defense ever" to win a Super Bowl, with a face so serious Mike Singletary might have blinked. And for a moment the statement deserved some serious consideration. Yes, they may not be the '85 Bears, or even the '00 Ravens for the matter, but who they are are the 2016 Super Bowl champion Broncos, a team with a defense who's arguably had to deal with the most complex and explosive offenses the NFL has seen to date. And that is not even including the team that they recently defeated in the Panthers, who, although they may have been the highest scoring team in the NFL, with the greatest point differential; admittedly the benefactor of a solid defense and special teams who did much to aid the offense through scores off turnovers and favorable field position for the offense to capitalize upon, but rather the victories over the vanquished potent attacks of offenses led by the multiple-championship winning talents of Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in their run through the playoffs just to have the opportunity to play in the big game and do all that has been described. So yes, in an era where quarterbacks and offenses are having their way week in week out during the course of an NFL season, we may just have to consider their place in the pantheon of all-time greatest defenses.

Peyton's got his place, and the 2016 Bronco's defense does too.