More misery for Manning

Johnny Unitas was a heck of a quarterback. Won a lot of games and threw a lot of touchdowns.
Phil Simms was a heck of a quarterback. Won a lot of games—also threw a lot of touchdowns.
The most touchdowns Unitas ever tossed in a season was 24 while the most Simms ever had was 22. Add them up and you’re still three short of Peyton Manning’s 2004 season, in which he broke Dan Marino’s record of 46 touchdown tosses with 49 of his own.
So, Unitas at his best+Simms at his best=Manning [–three touchdowns].
You could use the same formula with other quarterbacks, as well: Tom Brady (most touchdowns thrown in a season was 28), Kurt Warner (41), Steve Young (36), Joe Namath (26), Brett Favre (39), Trent Dilfer (21), and even Joe Montana (31).
But what is it that distinguishes the quarterbacks mentioned above from Manning, who also set another NFL record this past season with a 121.1 passer rating? Each of them has won a Super Bowl while Manning hasn’t even come close.
He may be one of the most astute passers the game has ever seen, but what separates great players from legends are championships. And after seven years, Manning—even with his undeniable abilities—has yet to even make a Super Bowl appearance.
But even though one of the league’s top offences in the Indianapolis Colts managed just three points against one of the top defences in the New England Patriots in that playoff game the Pats won 20-3, Manning’s phenomenal season (and they way he got to it) is still worth a second look.
Do you realize, for instance, the Colts were five seconds away from never even having the opportunity to draft Manning? And do you know why the residents of Indianapolis should all say “Thank you” to Jake Plummer?
It was the last week of the ’97 season and the Colts had lost (like usual) to the Minnesota Vikings to finish the season at 3-13.
Here’s where it got interesting. If the Arizona Cardinals could win against the Atlanta Falcons, that then would push the Colts in getting the top pick in the upcoming draft while the San Diego Chargers would select second.
Things looked bleak to say the least, but trailing 26-21 with five seconds left and at the Falcons’ goal line, Plummer, now with the Denver Broncos, passed to Larry Centers for the dramatic come-from-behind win and make Colts’ owner Jim Irsay the happiest man in sport.
“I just went berserk. The kids came running in saying, ‘What is wrong with dad’,” Irsay told the Associated Press about the experience.
Then Indianapolis surprised many by picking Manning over the better-rated Ryan Leaf in the draft—and thank God for that, wouldn’t you say?
“Leaf has a stronger arm and seems to be a more natural passer than Manning,” said a scout for a QB profile on Ryan Leaf, who isn’t breaking records like Manning (heck he isn’t ever playing football anymore).
After five pathetic seasons with four teams, Leaf called it quits a few years ago. His best season came in 2000 with the Chargers, who chose Leaf with the second pick, with 11 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and only 1,883 yards (other players the Chargers could have chosen in the draft were Charles Woodson, Grant Wistrom, Kyle Turley, Fred Taylor, and, oh yeah, Randy Moss).
So, at the count of three, Indianapolis—one, two, three—THANK YOU MR. PLUMMER!
But enough about the 6’4,” 215-pound waste of space in Leaf. Let’s get back to the dynamic 6’5,” 230-pound Manning.
Like the famous jockey, Eddie Arcaro, Manning grabbed the reins of the Colts and never let go. He threw for 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns in his rookie season, but without a running game suffered 28 interceptions and a repeat of the 3-13 record.
But what a difference a year (and the addition of running back Edgerrin James) can make as he reversed his team’s record to 13-3 while piling up 4,135 yards and 26 touchdowns, and cut his interceptions to 15.
With James as a unfailing threat in the backfield, and the wideout presence of Marvin Harrison, the Colts have implemented a play-action attack that is the game’s best—and probably the best it has ever seen (note: many thought the Colts were crazy for not picking Ricky Williams over James in the ’99 draft but like Leaf, Williams is now retired).
Since he entered the NFL, Manning has not thrown fewer than 26 touchdowns a season, which is second to only Viagra for consistent individual success. But when you look at his upbringing, this was all really inevitable, wasn’t it?
Archie Manning had a 14-year NFL career as a quarterback, of course, and was not too shabby in claiming the ’78 NFC Man of the Year award and selected to the Pro Bowl, but he never had a better season than his 8-8 campaign with the New Orleans Saints in ’79.
And oh yeah, that other Manning you might see wearing a N.Y. Giants jersey is Peyton’s younger brother, Eli, who actually is forecast (even by Peyton himself) as being the best of the Manning bunch.
Talk about your football family. And it doesn’t end there (well, unfortunately, it does). Cooper Manning, the oldest of the three brothers, was a senior wide receiver in New Orleans and the 6’4,” 185-pound all-star senior caught everything thrown his way by a sophomore quarterback named Peyton and caught the attention of top colleges.
But a ’92 medical diagnosis given to Cooper, who ran a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash, revealed he had a rare congenital condition called spinal stenosis, which causes the narrowing of the spine.
But this year, of course, was all about Peyton.
Now chew on this: No NFL passer, not even the great Isotoner-wearing Marino, has had as productive a season as Manning’s magical 2004 campaign.
There were giddy times for the Colts during stints of the season where they scored 522 points (fifth-highest total in history and only 34 points short of the ’98 edition of the Minnesota Vikings).
Not only did Manning, at 28, play at uncharted levels, but Indy’s other skill position players also stepped up their games like Brandon Stockley, Marcus Pollard, and Dallas Clark.
With every game, Manning, who signed a seven-year, $98 million (U.S.) contract (with a $34.5-million signing bonus, which is the richest ever in sports), just kept getting better as he collected more and more touchdowns and, in the process, more and more people’s respect.
But all good things must come to an end, and in the end, Peyton Manning’s finest season ended as his previous six—with disappointment and foiled expectations, and short of his goal of reaching the Super Bowl.
But he’ll get one eventually, won’t he?

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