The clock ran down to zero, the Gatorade was dumped on the coach and the confetti began falling, bringing an end to another football season. Only the confetti wasn’t the color people expected it would be.
The Seattle Seahawks were celebrating on the field, not the Denver Broncos as what was predicted to happen. And no, John Elway wasn’t being presented the Lombardi trophy. Instead, he was faced with an all-too-familiar outcome he and the Broncos have experienced before.
The Broncos left MetLife Stadium, losers of the big game for the fifth time in franchise history, the most Super Bowl losses of any team in the NFL. From beginning to end, the Broncos were beaten and manhandled in every aspect. It was the most dominant defensive performance delivered in a Super Bowl in the past decade.
Yet, despite winning another MVP Award the day prior to the Super Bowl, for Peyton Manning, individual awards do not carry the same weight as titles. Not for him and not for his critics. The big question that remains is how the loss will reflect upon Manning’s legacy.
There is no denying that Manning is unquestionably one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever suit up in the NFL. But in this league, and in sports in general, a player’s greatness is evaluated by how many rings he has.
However, what separates Manning from the rest is that he didn’t need to win to solidify his legacy. Countless broken records and one Super Bowl title is already enough for Manning to claim his place among the greatest who ever played the game.
Ask yourself this, would you place Eli Manning, who has two Super Bowl titles, ahead of big brother Peyton?
Although the Broncos might have lost in a humiliating fashion that no one saw coming, how much can that actually change what Manning has accomplished over his career? Not much. He has achieved what no other quarterback has done during his era has, and that is something worth noting in a pass-happy league.
The knock on Manning will remain that he is the greatest regular season quarterback ever. But think about it, how many players can lead a team to the best record for two-straight years after coming off a career-threatening neck injury? That alone should give you some insight into Manning’s greatness, and he did it at 37 years of age.
Looking back at the game, it wasn’t all Manning’s fault. It’s easy to point fingers at only the quarterback and the coach in football. Yet, a quarterback is only as good as the supporting cast around him, and that supporting cast that showed up for the first 18 games of the season was nowhere to be found in the last game of the year.
No one could have predicted that the first play of the game would result in a botched snap going over the head of Manning and turning into a safety. Manning sure didn’t.
The explosive wide receiver core of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker trembled and looked flustered by the Legion of Boom, and the offensive line did little to help Manning throw his signature passes.
The Broncos defense wasn’t much help either. Seattle hadn’t been putting up points in its run-up to the Super Bowl, yet the Broncos’ defense gave up two touchdowns through the air, one on the ground, one on a kick return and had a bunch of missed tackles.
The Broncos were outplayed by a defense that was built to counter its record-setting offense. It’s as simple as that. The better team won and it showed throughout the game.
Perhaps this wasn’t the storybook ending Peyton Manning and fans had hoped for. Numerous people dreamed of Peyton going out on top just like John Elway did after he lost his first three Super Bowls for Denver.
The Broncos are still a young, talented team with much to improve on and under the leadership of Elway, the Broncos will still be a contender. For Peyton, at least he knows there’s someone in the organization who knows how he feels right about now and will give him the tools to get back.
So, is Peyton one of the greatest to play? Yes. Is he the greatest of all-time? Not right now, but there’s always next season.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of Feb. 5th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Art by Mingchen Shen of the Daily Nexus.