Saints trash Peyton Manning’s legacy
by JASON WHITLOCK
the Kansas City Star
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. | Rush Limbaugh was right after all. We, the mainstream media, have been desirous. We’ve spent more than a decade trying to hype Peyton Manning into the Babe Ruth of football.
The job is too big for two Mannings, let alone Peyton, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
Down a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, 5 yards from a first down and 31 yards short of a tie score, Manning tossed his Ruthian legacy into the arms of Tracy Porter, throwing the interception that decided the game and, in all likelihood, cemented Manning’s reputation as a big-game disappointment.
Porter, a New Orleans defensive back, dashed 74 yards and across the goal line with Manning’s gift, sealing the Saints’ 31-17 shocker and permanently scarring a Colts season that at one time threatened history.
Forgive me for not celebrating New Orleans’ amazing victory, a triumph that symbolizes a great city’s rebirth and resiliency, quarterback Drew Brees’ rising star and coach Sean Payton’s fearless decision-making and leadership.
But the story is Manning and the Colts and what was thrown away late in the regular season and late in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
Having turned down a chance to duplicate the ’72 Dolphins by resting their starters the final two weeks of the regular season, Manning and the Colts arrived at Sun Life Stadium chasing a legacy and a dynasty.
The pundits predicted Sunday’s game would establish Manning as the greatest quarterback of all time, surpassing Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, John Elway and Tom Brady.
On the basis of Indy’s 10 playoff appearances in 11 seasons and possible second world title, Bill Polian, the general manager of the Colts, suggested the Colts were the team of the new millennium, better than even the New England Patriots.
No way Brady, Montana or Elway throws the Favrelike interception Manning uncorked Sunday night. And no way can you compare the Colts to the any of the great football dynasties. The appropriate comparison is to baseball’s Atlanta Braves, winners of 14 consecutive division crowns and just one World Series.
Manager Bobby Cox is the face of Atlanta’s “underachievement.” Manning will be the face of Indy’s.
Manning, an All-American at Tennessee, entered the NFL with questions about his playmaking ability in big games. The Volunteers finally won a national championship the year after Manning departed for the NFL.
It took nine seasons, a Herculean defensive effort and three Adam Vinatieri field goals to secure Manning’s first Super Bowl victory. Despite a poor playoff run and an average performance in the 2006 Super Bowl, we, the mainstream media, awarded Manning the game’s MVP trophy.
This season, despite better statistical performances by Brees, Brett Favre and Philip Rivers, we, the mainstream media, handed Manning his fourth MVP trophy.
We love Peyton Manning. We want him to be the Michael Jordan of football, the Tiger Woods of football, the Wayne Gretzky of football.
Manning is Phil Mickelson, a wonderful talent who lacks the killer instinct of a great champion.
Despite our desires, we’re best served looking for our football superman in another uniform. Perhaps it’s Brees, the MVP of Sunday’s game. He tied Brady’s record for completions in a Super Bowl, connecting on 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two TDs.
Brees was flawless. Abandoned by his running game, Brees carried the New Orleans offense with a controlled passing game. His longest pass was a 27-yarder. He mostly worked the underneath routes, hitting timing patterns.
Despite a 10-0 first-quarter hole, Brees never flinched. He consistently produced multiple-play drives that kept Manning on the sideline. And Brees took full advantage of the game’s most daring play — Sean Payton’s decision to open the second half with an onside kick. Brees marched the Saints 58 yards and into the end zone for a 13-10 lead.
When Indy coach Jim Caldwell made the ridiculous decision to send out 42-year-old kicker Matt Stover for a 51-yard field-goal try — it missed badly — Brees took advantage of the short field, leading New Orleans on a 59-yard TD drive. Brees then hit Lance Moore for a two-point conversion that gave the Saints a 24-17 lead and put all the pressure on Manning for a game-tying TD drive.
Manning, of course, crumbled. He is not the kind of competitor who gets better as the stakes elevate. He should not be ridiculed for this flaw. He should also not be placed on the same pedestal as sports’ greatest champions.