t was just over a year ago, after the Colts lost to the Pats in their post-season contest, that Boomer Esiason said on national television, “I think maybe Peyton (Manning) is this generation’s Dan Marino.” Esiason went on to state that Manning “is a great football player, but he’s not going to get to the Super Bowl, I’m telling you, not with that defense.”
Marino, who was on the set, took umbrage at the reference and shot back, “Oh, wait a minute. I got to a Super Bowl.” Marino made a good point, but still, Esiason seemed to be on target by not blaming either quarterback for their failings but, rather, the guys on the other side of the ball-their weak defenses.
Fast forward to January 15, 2006, almost exactly a year to the date that Esiason made his comments. What was different this time for Peyton Manning and the Colts? The Colts seemed to have the full package-a great running and passing attack, a solid offensive line, and a fine defense. Everything was aligned for Manning-Mania to take full effect, especially after such a spectacular regular season.
But once again, under the glare of the national spotlight, in a huge playoff game, and under the kind of pressure he had rarely seen all season, Peyton Manning crumbled. This latest derailment of the Colt’s Super Bowl Express drew a barrage of disparaging comments from many writers and commentators, including the NY Times’ William C. Rhoden. Two days after the loss, Rhoden dubbed Manning “the king of statistics but the prince of NFL quarterbacks” in that although he can generate statistics, he may be incapable of closing the deal and ever bringing a championship to Indianapolis.
No matter how much you respect Peyton Manning and his amazing regular season performances, it’s difficult to argue with the facts. In eight seasons the Colt QB has led his team to the playoffs six times where he is 3-6. In those nine games he’s hit for 15 TDs, while throwing 8 INTs and being sacked 13 times. There are quarterbacks, most recently Tom Brady, who usually manage to rise to the occasion in the big game, ably dealing with a panoply of adversity. And then there are those like Manning, usually able to run like finely tuned, precision machines, which means when everything is copacetic they hum along but let something like a blitz throw off their rhythm and they breakdown.
Some people point out that maybe he has too much control over the offense, constantly changing and adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage, and when things go awry it’s almost impossible for Manning to adapt. Others claim that he simply can’t handle the pressure of a big game situation. Some blame others on the team. After losing to the Steelers this post-season, Peyton Manning did something he’s never done before; point the finger at his teammates.
Then there’s Peyton’s younger brother Eli, who just finished his second NFL season and his first professional post-season. Against the Carolina Panthers Eli Manning completed 10 of 18 passes, threw three interceptions, was sacked four times and lost one fumble as the Giants were humbled by their opponents 23 to zip. At one point in the game it seemed as if Eli Manning thought his job was to get the ball to the Panthers as boos echoed throughout Giants Stadium and fans hustled for the exits.
Coolness under pressure-is this a Manning characteristic? Or do Peyton and Eli share some sort of panic gene? For Eli it’s simply too early to tell and with Peyton, there’s still time left to turn the tide.
Perhaps one should ask, “What would dad and former NFL QB Archie Manning do?” There’s no answer to that question-in 15 NFL seasons Archie never came close to making it to the playoffs.
Time will tell what the true legacy of the Manning brothers will be. Dan Marino-Move over?