Peyton Manning and the legacy question

NEW YORK — Peyton Manning has singular focus … and double vision.

The Denver Broncos star has a chance Sunday to become the first starting quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different NFL franchises, having already won one ring with the Indianapolis Colts.

"He's a living legend right now," said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, whose Seahawks will play the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. "He's been a living legend for years."

Regardless of which team wins, Manning joins Craig Morton and Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks to lead two franchises to Super Bowls. Morton was 0-2 in the NFL's biggest game, losing with Dallas in 1971 and Denver in 1978. Warner was 1-2, winning with the St. Louis Rams in 2000, then losing with them in 2002 and with Arizona in 2009.

Manning, with one Lombardi Trophy to his name, trails his younger brother, Eli, by one in that department. Eli led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories, both over New England, with the most recent one coming at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Peyton's old home field. So it's only fitting that Peyton will have a chance to win it in Eli's home venue.

At 37 and two years removed from four neck surgeries, Peyton Manning had a record-breaking regular season, throwing for more yards, 5,477, and more touchdowns, 55, than any quarterback in league history. He also set a record for distributing the ball, with five players around him scoring 10 touchdowns or more en route to being named the league's most valuable player for a fifth time.

Among the more popular debates during Super Bowl week was how Manning's legacy would be affected by Sunday's game, a conversation that rankles Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

"I don't think this game, one way or the other affects his legacy the way that he has played," said Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations. "So he's going to be one of the all-time greats no matter what.… The bottom line, this year that he's had — legacies don't get great until you're done. That's when people start talking."

Reasonable and informed minds can be on both sides of the argument, and two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson has a different opinion than Elway.

While conceding that Manning is "already one of the best to ever play," Johnson, a Fox analyst, said: "Obviously, winning more rings gives him more credibility. In professional football, and even college football, putting up numbers just doesn't do it. You've got to have the championships. Because a guy can go and throw for a tremendous amount of yardage, but because they're not running the football, or they don't have balance, or they're throwing interceptions, they lose games. So the real credibility comes from winning a ring."

Manning shrugs off the legacy question, noting he isn't even quite sure what legacy means.

"This legacy question keeps popping up, and I guess I had a little more time to think about it," he said. "If I had my choice, what my legacy would be, would be that I played my butt off for every team that I ever played on, I was a really good teammate and I did everything I could to win. Whatever happens along in that time is fine with me. Those are things that I care about."

He is a tireless technician when it comes to improving his game and those around him, true. But he chuckles at descriptions of him that paint him as someone solely focused on football.

"Even in college, there was always misinformation," he said. "They used to say that I would stay up after the college game on Saturday night to watch the film of the game. The truth was that the replay of the game on TV would come on about 2 a.m., just as I was coming in with my teammates after a postgame celebration. I thought I was a normal college football player, a college student-athlete, who, after a game, went out and enjoyed it. I was lucky enough that the broadcast was on, and I got to stay up and watch it.

"I wasn't studying the game film on Saturday night. At 37 years old, and in my 16th season, especially in a week like this, I think it's healthy to take some time to reflect and smell the roses."

Still, Manning is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, and inspires awe, even among his teammates.

"Practicing against one of the greatest, I was like a little kid out there," Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan said of his first encounter with Manning. "Once I got to practice with him, I got the feel of the game a little better. He does the little things you don't see regular quarterbacks do all the time — checking, calling an audible and trying to throw you off.

"You just pray to God you are not on the other side."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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