Peyton Manning's Legacy Vs. His Arch-Nemesis And His Little Brother

Prior to Sunday's AFC and NFC Championship fantastic doubleheader, the more desired Super Bowl matchup most people I spoke to (or saw tweet about, or put on Facebook) wanted to see Niners/Ravens, affectionately known as Harbaugh Bowl II. Some predicted Ravens/Giants while none included New England outside of those who support them. With all due respect, and I so desperately wanted to see Ed Reed finally walk away with a ring, Giants/Patriots isn't too bad either. In fact, it's probably the best outcome possible. By now, I'm well aware of the critiques.

"We saw this in 2008. Who wants to see this again?"

My response: Um, it was only one of the better Super Bowls of the past 20 years, if not ever. And whatever happened to a great rematch? It may not be Ali/Frazier, Arnold/The Gooch or Martin/Pam, but with David Tyree's career-defining-career-ending reception (seriously, he was never heard from again and made way for what would eventually become the cultural phenom known as Victor Cruz) and coming within one Eli Manning sack of seeing the only 19-0 season in league history, there's still unfinished business.

"These are my two most hated teams. I won't be watching."

My response: Right. Of course you won't watch the event that damn near the entire country will be tuned in for. What the hell else are you going to do? And hold on. The Giants are more hated than the Cowboys now? No way, I'll believe that.

"I hate Brady. He doesn't deserve another ring."

My response: How the hell do people come up with this stuff? We criticize players for being too good? But yet, clown them until the cows come home when they come up short? Americans have no clue what they want out of their significant others, let alone athletes.

New England and New York are two teams pretty much one in the same. They're well-deserving of the chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy. Both coaches have been through the ringer in respective situations. The defenses caught flack at some point in the season, only to turn it around and look rather damn impressive, as of late. They're both led by two of the games finest signal-callers in Eli Manning and Tom Brady. And they're both, intended or not, forever bonded to Peyton Manning. Sure, you've heard this relation 1,000 times already and probably another 3.2 billion until February 5, but so what? It's something unavoidable and something worth pondering.

Call it divine intervention (or the work of Goodell, if you're a conspiracy theorist), but Eli and Brady (the two quarterbacks linked to Peyton more than anyone else for the past decade) will be playing in the biggest game of their careers on the field Eli's big brother basically helped fund. And I say biggest game of their careers from from a surreal perspective. Let's break it down like this:

If Brady wins: First, the obvious; a victory nine days before Valentine's Day means Tom enters a class only frequented by two other QB's with four Super Bowl rings: Terry Bradshaw and his childhood idol, Joe Montana. Four titles, a slew of robust passing statistics, iconic big game moments amongst other things all but solidifies him of, at least, a top-three quarterback of all-time ranking. There's even the case that can be made he's THE greatest for the simple fact all four rings will have come without a Hall of Famer on offense. Montana had Rice. Bradshaw had Swann. Brady's had...Deion Branch? Troy Brown? Welker may have an outside shot at making the Hall, but only after getting snubbed more times than we care to remember. As it relates to what we're talking about here, however, Brady all but ends any debate about who the generation's best was, he or Peyton? Unless Peyton's neck is now made of teflon, and he goes on the greatest three-year stretch of any football player ever, he's not catching Tom.

Not to mention, he'll have disposed of three squads on his personal shit-list. Denver because of the whole "can-Tebow-march-into-Foxboro-and-part-the-Red-Sea" angle. Baltimore for that back alley beatdown the Ravens gave them in 2009, although Flacco actually played better on Sunday. And if he helps the Pats beat the G-Men, he'll have avenged quite possibly the darkest moment of his professional career.

If Eli wins: As we did with Tom, let's state the obvious; outside of there finally being a Manning starting in Indianapolis! Two rings for little bro. One for big bro. And a slew of playoff "clutch" (which seems to be the sports equivalent to what "Y.O.L.O" is in Hip-Hop) performances under his belt. Eli's been arguably the best quarterback in football since about Week 14 when he and the Cowboys bend-and-always-break secondary orchestrated a 12-point comeback with five minutes to go in Dallas. What has felt like a blasphemous question for years - can Eli be better than Peyton? - now appears to be all but a forgone conclusion depending who you pose the question to (especially when the whole "Peyton can't play increment weather" factor is brought up).

Winning a second Super Bowl, on his brother's field at that, shifts momentum in Eli's favor as the family's best quarterback. It also gives Eli the greatest "f*ck all y'all" season. Everyone laughed when he referred to himself as an elite quarterback before the season, but from taking a 7-7 team to the brink of immortality deserves some sort of consideration. Another example of a near legendary "f*ck all y'all" season? Last year's Miami Heat, but I digress.

The dichotomy of the entire situation is odd. There's nothing like it in all of sports where one quarterback stands to have his "legacy" take a hit in a game he has no control over the outcome in. To Peyton's credit, he's still probably the greatest mind the position has ever seen. He's still one of the most entertaining players to watch operate. He's made being the Colts offensive coordinator the easiest job in all of sports. And he's the reason we're having a Super Bowl in Indianapolis, if you want to keep it 100. Yet, now he finds himself on the ropes for his perceived "lack of clutchness" and now labeled widely with the backhanded compliment of being the greatest regular season quarterback the game has ever seen.

And on top of all that, he knows the organization, which wiped the slate clean it seems, has already handpicked his successor in Andrew Luck. Now, there are two questions which remain outside of who wins in two weeks.

How is Peyton viewed? For that I say, his career isn't over yet. John Elway was 0-3 in Super Bowls before his last two seasons and is arguably the greatest clutch QB ever ("The Drive" turned him into a God-like figure). Peyton's 1-1, the same record his brother could very well be. And if that's the case, then what? Back to square one?

The second question is this: Say Indy doesn't decide to bring Manning back, where to next? You have to believe he's going to where he believes the best opportunity to squeeze out one (mayyyybe two) more rings lies. New York, with Rex Ryan, where he'd face you know who twice a year? Or Arizona, where he'd be paired up with Larry Fitzgerald which has "unstoppable" written all over its passing routes? Or Washington, where he'd almost certainly become the second coming of Brad Johnson, just by the Snyder Curse guidelines alone.

There are more questions than answers here, answers which probably won't be ironed out until the three QB's decide to have retirement press conferences. Seeing as how I've glanced at pictures of Tom Brady's $20M mansion with a lagoon, bridge connecting parts of his house and a tree house where his son can play, Eli's pretty much the present-day King of New York and Peyton's sitting on football and endorsement checks he's yet to even sign, they probably don't care about this scenario as much as I do. And I really do. It's what us fans live for and players, too, whether it's admitted or not. You're only given a certain amount of time on Earth to make an impact and, in the NFL's case, a really good player has about a decade, give or take a few seasons. What's done in those years will live for eternity.

One thing we know life affords us is being blessed with the impossible task of knowing what forever looks like. That constant chase keeps us on our toes and fighting for longevity. Come February 5, however, we'll at least have an idea of what it'll resemble for two brothers and a Brady.


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