Brady-Manning XVII: It's more about one legacy than another

Brady-Manning XVII is supposed to be about two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. And it is ... sort of. But there's more at stake here for one than the other.

Photo courtesy of New England Patriots
Photo courtesy of New England Patriots

(Tom Brady photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

(Peyton Manning photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Brady-Manning XVII is not about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. It’s about Peyton Manning.

Seldom has one game meant more to the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, and not just because it can launch him and his teammates to another Super Bowl – their second in three seasons. Nope, this one’s all about the legacy, and a win here can help redefine Manning’s.

Once upon a time, people wondered if he was the greatest quarterback ever. Then the narrative changed, and, suddenly, the same voices who wanted to put him ahead of Unitas and Montana and, yes, Tom Brady, clarified their comments -- calling him the best “regular-season quarterback ever.”

The distinction was clear. Manning couldn’t close the deal.

The quarterback who was 186-79 in the regular season is also 12-13 in the playoffs, with nine one-and-dones and a 1-2 Super Bowl record. Contrast that to Brady’s 22-8 playoff record, .771 winning percentage, four Super Bowl wins and six Super Bowl appearances, and you’ll understand why this game is more meaningful to one quarterback than the other.

Brady doesn’t need another Super Bowl to solidify his place in history. He’s the best quarterback of his generation and one of the top quarterbacks of all time. Not only has he been to more Super Bowls than any quarterback in NFL history; his 10 conference championship appearances are more than 27 teams.

So he’s playing with house money.

But Manning? Not so much. He’s playing with his legacy. Another loss here, and no need to send his epitaph to rewrite. He becomes the great quarterback who lapped the field in the regular season but couldn’t win The Big One.

You think I’m kidding? When we were talking with a Hall-of-Fame candidate on the Talk of Fame Network last year, we asked which quarterback he’d rather face. His first question: “Are we talking playoffs or the regular season?” He didn’t have to clarify his answer.

Yeah, I know, Peyton Manning has five MVP awards, and that’s great. Nobody is even close. But that’s based on regular-season play. When the stakes are upped and it’s January, he’s not even the best Manning out there. Younger brother Eli is. He’s 8-3 in the playoffs, including two Super Bowl wins over Brady and the Patriots.

That’s why a victory Sunday would close the gap between Manning and Brady and maybe, just maybe, back off critics who charge Peyton is the most ordinary extraordinary quarterback in the playoffs – with a losing record, 38 touchdowns, 24 interceptions and a passer rating of 88.0.

And Brady? Well he doesn’t have half as many MVP awards as Manning (Brady has two), but he does have three times as many Super Bowl MVPs … and tell me which you’d rather have. He also has nearly three times as many playoff wins as he does losses, and if he makes it to his third Super Bowl in five years, he simply underscores what we already know – namely, that he just might be the best quarterback since John Unitas.

Granted, there’s more at stake than that. He could become the first quarterback in NFL history to win five Super Bowls, and, yes, that’s astounding. It would put him at the head of the class. But all that does is enhance the legacy, not redefine it.

That is not the case with Manning. If he wins a second Super Bowl, it could change the perception of him as a guy who was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever … but one of the greatest post-season failures, too.

So don’t tell me Manning-Brady XVII is a contest of resumes between two of the best quarterbacks who ever lived. Because it’s not. That ship sailed a long time ago. Nope, it’s about Peyton Manning with one last chance to polish the stain on an otherwise glittering reputation.

For more on Brady-Manning XVII, see John Turney's breakdown of their careers -- Part A vs. Part B: