Super Bowls don’t determine greatness

9 02 2010

For all you Peyton Manning critics who claim he can’t reach NFL immortality now that he’s lost a Super Bowl, take a deep breath, relax and chew on the following few paragraphs. As much as credentials for quarterback greatness might have once swung too far toward statistics, the argument for who’s the best has pivoted too much to the other side of the pendulum, the one that looks at Super Bowl rings as the absolute precursor to a legendary resume.

I get why all quarterbacks are measured by the number of Vince Lombardi trophies they raise during their career. Football is the consummate battle and quarterbacks are the ringleaders, thus making a championship the ultimate test of their leadership, toughness and talent. Yet those critics who claim that quarterbacks should be measured by their Super Bowl rings will also endorse football as the ultimate team sport.

Football advocates cite each position’s reliance on the other as the reason for why football promotes teamwork better than any other sport. The quarterback is dependent on the offensive line to protect him and the wide receiver catch his pass. The running back is reliant on the quarterback to properly hand off the ball and for everybody else to block. The defense works essentially the same way, with linemen and defensive backs realizing that their job is based at least somewhat on whether the other performs his role.

So if football is the ultimate team sport, why put so much of the onus on quarterbacks to win the Big Game? Sure, they receive most of the glory for winning, but that doesn’t mean critics should double up on a misguided placement of responsibilities by labeling them as “not great enough” if they don’t win one Super Bowl, or multiple in the case of Manning. He’s won “only” one Super Bowl. He’s “just” 9-9 in the playoffs, although the 9-9 critics fail to point out that he’s 9-6 since 2003 and 6-3 since ’06.

Manning will — and should — go down as one of the sport’s greatest quarterbacks. Whether or not he’s number one is simply a matter of preference for an era. Old-timers consider Johnny Unitas the greatest because of his toughness, leadership and ability to pique interest in football at a time when baseball was still America’s game. Some prefer Joe Montana because of his cool under pressure and the great defenses he faced in the ’80s. Others hold Manning in the highest regard because of more athletic defenses running far more complex schemes during his era. You really can’t go wrong as long as you take time to tailor your pitch. Just don’t hold a quarterback responsible for the entire actions of a team at every moment of his career.