No one in the sports world thinks that this could be the last season for Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Both have a few years left on their contracts (even though Manning is on year-to-year club extensions), both are still playing at a high level, and both teams have limited to zero options outside of their respective Hall of Famers. But let us play a little game of “what if?”
What if Tom Brady and Co. win the Super Bowl this year? And what if Brady decides it’s better to go out on top than it is to come back for another year (much like Ray Lewis)? At the same time what if Peyton Manning decides his body is breaking down too much, and he needs to step away from football to focus on his real passion (making commercials)? What is the legacy of these two players?
For Manning it is a very Yin and Yang discussion. Some will point to his statistics and argue he is the best quarterback of all time. While currently he is just a little over 2,000 yards shy of Brett Favre’s all-time mark, Manning has eclipsed his touchdown number. Manning did all that in fewer games while throwing far fewer interceptions than Favre. Like Favre, Manning has one Super Bowl ring, which is one more than the next guy in the discussion: Dan Marino. Still, others will point out that Manning is unreliable in the playoffs. His nine “one-and-done” playoff series are the most of all time. It has got to a point where Manning was part of a bit on Saturday Night Live where a “Peyton Manning” was a term used for a team or player who did really well in the regular season and then fell apart in the playoffs. For a joke to be funny there has to be a shred of truth to it. The funniest thing about this is there could be debate about whether Peyton is even the best Manning. Brother Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs, and happened to beat Tom Brady in both of those games.
For Brady there is far less debate. He’s played in five Super Bowls and won three. No other quarterback has played in more Super Bowls (John Elway has also played in five), and with a win Tom would tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most wins by a starting quarterback (both Terry and Joe are 4-0). Tom has put up some amazing numbers during the regular season, second only to Peyton in most categories. Were it not for Manning playing in the same era I’m not sure that Brady isn’t a unanimous pick as the best quarterback of all time, an amazing feat for someone drafted in the fifth round. Still, the Super Bowl losses against the New York Giants sting, particularly the one that would have capped a perfect season. The only real debate surrounding Brady is whether or not he is the best. He will draw comparisons between Manning, Marino, Joe Montana, and anyone else you could bring into the discussion.
Ultimately it’s the players’ decision, but I lean towards burning out over fading away. Ray Lewis retired after winning his second Super Bowl. The man was still playing at a high level despite his age, but you saw the lost steps. Ray was not making plays he would have made five years ago.
The tail end of this year should be an eye opening for all the Peyton Manning fans out there. Next year Peyton could be back to his old self, but he could be even worse that what we’ve seen over the last month. Is that what you want for his last season? Is that what Peyton wants? The game will not be the same once both of them have hung up their cleats, but I’d rather see the players dictating that they are done with the game, rather than the game being done with the player.