AFC Championship Game is the Legacy Bowl

by John Furgele

Peyton Manning is two wins away from immortality.  Two wins from telling the world to “kiss off.”   One thing is certain; if Manning and his Denver Broncos get those two wins, he has too much class to tell the world those two words mentioned above.   But, in his quiet time, when nobody is around, he could look in the mirror and grin.

Manning is perhaps the best regular season quarterback of all time.  His numbers are more than spectacular.  The way he audibles has started a new game of taking a sip of a drink every time he yells “Omaha.”  That’s how profound his effect on the game has been.  Because of that, he has the pressure, the pressure of winning another Super Bowl title.  He isn’t the first person or team for that matter that has faced this pressure.  The 1980s Mets, as good as they were in 1986 are often criticized for not winning another title.   The 1988-1990 Oakland A’s are lamented for winning only one title as were the 1969-1971 Baltimore Orioles. Same goes for the 1985 Bears.   Individually, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving have seen their sterling reputations take a bit of a hit for not winning enough.

Manning is 10-11 in postseason games and his QB rating is 88.4 in those games.  Sure, you could say that Manning’s teams were never the best, but there were some years where he and his Colts underachieved.   But, Manning is held to a different standard, a higher standard, like Wilt Chamberlain, who for all his failures did play on two NBA championship teams.

Manning could cement his legacy with two more wins and you know what, in many ways that’s too bad.  He is a human being, he has feelings and emotions and he will feel the pressure, how can he not?  He knows what’s at stake, and in the end, it doesn’t matter, but as long as we take football and sports seriously, it will be there.   I’m sure Dan Marino is a comfortable secure person, but sports people are constantly saying that because he never won a Super Bowl he can’t be considered this or that.  Is it fair?  Of course, not, but it is what it is.

When Manning completes 25 of 36 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, it’s considered a sub-par game.  When Tom Brady goes 13 of 25 for less than 200 yards, it’s called a gritty, tough performance.  People expect Manning to be brilliant, to be dominant and many want him to be the star with that eye popping performance.  They want to see 30 of 41 for 425 yards and three touchdowns and a win.   He is great, so the fan wants greatness, and they want it all the time.   He has a Super Bowl title and a Super Bowl MVP, but people get on him more for the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans than his win over the Chicago Bears.   Tom Brady is 3-2 in Super Bowls but because he won his first three, nobody seems to care about those two losses to the NY Giants, including the 2007 season, when the Pats came in to the game 18-0.

When people think of Brady, they think great, clutch, winner, when they think of Manning, they say great, but not clutch.  They think because of those regular season numbers and those ten playoff wins that he needs to win more than one Super Bowl.   So, fair or not, the pressure will be on number 18 this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.   And, for Tom Brady, he gets to play this game with house money for the first time since he won his first Super Bowl in the 2001 season.  That’s a dangerous role if you are rooting for Denver and for Manning.

Brady took those Pats teams to two Super Bowls against the Giants and was expected to win.  He didn’t play badly in either game, but the favored Pats lost both.   Now, he comes in with most of the free world rooting against him and that could spell trouble for Denver.

The truth is that Manning has never played on great teams, those Indy teams won a lot because of his greatness.  The year he didn’t play, they went 2-14, so if the NFL keeps a WAR stat, Manning would likely lead the league.   The 2005 team was probably his best, but the hot Steelers got them, and then beat Denver and Seattle to win the Super Bowl.

This Denver team is a not a great team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if New England went up there and beat them.  If Manning plays great and they lose, it might still not be enough to get the critics off his back, but to dismiss the Pats is not wise.   But, if you look at the Broncos, do they come across as a sure thing, a dominant team?  I say no.

That said, the Broncos are at home, they’re the number one seed and they should win this game and advance to the Super Bowl.   That’s how sports are.  Sports anoint the favorite, and if they lose, they destroy the favorite.   Once again, it is what it is.

If the Broncos do win Sunday, there will be relief with many calling this Manning’s destiny, but at the other side in the Super Bowl will be the defending NFC champion 49ers or a dominant Seattle Seahawk team waiting for Manning and his date with destiny.   Remember, Manning is two wins away from cementing his legacy, and each hurdle is a monumental one.   Conventional wisdom tells me he’d play better in the Super Bowl than he does in the AFC Championship Game because he may actually take it all in and relax more.   And, let’s be honest, Tom Brady is to Peyton Manning as John McEnroe was to Jimmy Connors.   Connors recently said that he still gets tense when he sees McEnroe and both players retired from tennis in the early 1990s.   I think Brady has that effect on Manning, but Manning winning two Super Bowls to Brady’s three is much like Connors eight slams to McEnroe’s seven, it’s the company you keep.

This Sunday is the Legacy Bowl in Denver.  The winning quarterback moves to New York to play in the Cement Legacy Bowl.

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