Bob Frantz: It’s too soon for claims of ‘best ever’

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He is the only player in history to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player four times. He is third on the all-time charts in touchdown passes and completions, fourth in passing yardage, and will likely retire as the career leader in each of those categories, and more. He has a Super Bowl ring on his finger. And he’s only 33-years-old. Yet on Super Bowl Sunday in Miami, several chapters in the unwritten legacy of Peyton Manning were blown away by a stiff Brees.

In truth, it’s hard to decide whether to feel more giddy for New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees, who turned in one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history with a record-tying 32 completions in 39 attempts, or more disappointed for Manning, who gave just a solid performance when spectacular was required in order to win his second championship.

The Saints were clearly the sentimental favorites, and there is much satisfaction to be taken from watching a team that was virtually homeless just over four years ago win a championship. However, as a football historian who enjoys watching the all-time greats perform their magic for an awestruck generation of fans who will one day brag to great-grandchildren about the legends they watched, watching Manning walk off the field with his head bowed was disheartening.

This was not Manning’s last chance to add to his jewelry collection, as he likely has another 5-7 years of All-Pro caliber football in him, so there’s no point in getting too misty-eyed. However, there are more than just a few whispers from analysts, fans, and writers that Manning may ultimately compare more favorably with Dan Marino than with Joe Montana. He was good, but not dominating in his lone Super Bowl victory, and one lonely ring is closer to Marino’s zero than it is to Montana’s four. And therein lies the rub.

I have always despised the critics who claim that Marino was somehow an inferior quarterback to other all-timers because he never won a championship. I don’t believe anyone who has ever watched a game would argue that football is the ultimate team game. More than baseball, and more than basketball. And it was certainly not Marino’s fault that Dolphin management never gave him his Terrell Davis, as Denver did for John Elway late in his career, propelling Elway to his two titles. And Marino never had a defense like Montana’s, shutting opponents down and not forcing him to have to put up 38 points to win.

Similarly, it wasn’t Manning trying in vain to chase Marques Colston on Sunday, and it wasn’t Manning failing to get to Brees in the backfield. It’s a team game. It’s a team effort. And if Peyton Manning never goes on to quarterback another championship team, it will be a shame when his individual legacy is finally written in full.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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