Peyton Manning deserves status among the greatest

Even if Broncos quarterback fails to win his 2nd Super Bowl, his numbers alone put him among best ever

2014 Super Bowl

The Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning speaks to the media on board the Cornucopia Majesty ship docked in Jersey City, N.J., on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (Thomas A. Ferrara / MCT / January 30, 2014)

Peyton Manning's proud legacy should not be tarnished if the Broncos lose Sunday's Super Bowl.

Surely, his reputation would be enhanced if he helps his team to victory over the Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But the notion Manning no longer should be allowed to sit at the big-boy table of all-time great quarterbacks if the Broncos lose is simply ludicrous.

Starting quarterbacks require even more help from their teammates to win than starting pitchers.

Yet individual statistics tell a significant part of the story when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. In the first game this season, Manning became one of only six quarterbacks to throw seven touchdown passes in a game. By the end of his remarkable regular season, Manning broke Tom Brady's NFL record for touchdown passes with 55.

But the criteria for trying to determine the greatest quarterbacks of all time are not always quantifiable.

Rules changes have affected the game in such a way that offensive production — especially with regard to the passing game — has been skewed in favor of quarterbacks.

"You can't hit 'em a fraction of a second late. You can't hit 'em high, you can't hit 'em low. … They are protecting quarterbacks beyond what I think is legitimate," former Bears general manager Bill Tobin told the Tribune on Friday. "And then defensive backs can't hit people coming across the middle. Our '85 Bears team probably all would have been fined and broke and suspended because of the way you played the game then."

Consider that old school Hall of Fame quarterbacks such as Johnny Unitas, Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Otto Graham and others of their era played many of their NFL seasons (from 1947-60) with just 12 scheduled games. If they and those who played the bulk of their careers in 14-game schedules had played 16-game seasons as quarterbacks now, surely the inflated passing numbers of today would not seem so outlandish.

"It's hard to compare one era to another," Tobin said. "Back when Bart Starr played and even when Joe Namath played, they didn't have three and four wideouts on the field at the same time. The running game was so much more important then. They didn't use the total width of the field like it has been used now. And certainly the acceleration of plays being run (in hurry-up offenses) is another factor."

In the Bears' case, the fact Sid Luckman still holds franchise passing records from the 1940s is more of an indictment of the organization's philosophy than a statistical anomaly.

If being the greatest quarterback of all time is measured by how many team championships won, then Graham takes home that trophy. Graham, the Northwestern alum from Waukegan, guided the Browns to the (All-America Football Conference and NFL) title game every year between 1946 to 1955, and he won seven of them.

Starr won five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls; Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana each captured four Super Bowls. Brady has three Super Bowl rings. Luckman led the Bears to four NFL titles.

Tobin later became the GM of the Colts before Bill Polian replaced him in 1997 after owner Bob Irsay died. The next year, the team selected Manning with the first pick in the NFL draft. Tobin was credited with providing the foundation around Manning to become successful.

"We had a supporting cast for him with Marshall Faulk, who is in the Hall of Fame, Marvin Harrison, who is going to be in the Hall of Fame, and several others," Tobin said. "I know (Manning's) first year wasn't terrific, but it all came together.

"Manning has to be one of the best of all time because of his achievements and his intelligence and his production. To take two (different) teams to the Super Bowl is quite special, too."

John Elway, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Brady, Montana … name your all-time favorite quarterback — and Manning belongs in that conversation.

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter @kicker34

CHICAGO

More