For all the NFL records Peyton Manning owns – and there are plenty – he is one victory away from the one accomplishment that eventually might define his legacy more than any other.
If Manning’s Denver Broncos beat the Seattle Seahawks next weekend, he would become the first starting quarterback to win Super Bowl titles with two franchises.
Manning is already a larger-than-life figure in Indianapolis, of course, widely credited with turning a basketball town into a football town by making the Colts truly matter. He led them to two NFL championship games, winning in 2007, losing in 2010.
And now Manning, at the age of 37, two years removed from sitting out an entire season after a series of neck operations, has a chance to forever stamp himself as a figure of similar importance in Denver, too. As it is, he already has joined Craig Morton and Kurt Warner as the only QBs to lead two clubs to the Super Bowl, although they didn’t win with both.
“If he can win this game, he definitely will be an icon in two cities,” said Morton, who was in Denver for six of his 18 NFL seasons. “Well, he probably already is. But ... there’s so much focus on the Super Bowl. If you win, you’re in granite. If you lose, you’re in the mud.”
Spoken from experience.
Morton went 0-2 as a Super Bowl starter, losing with the Dallas Cowboys in 1971, then the Broncos in 1978. Warner went 1-2, winning with the St. Louis Rams in 2000, then losing with them in 2002, before losing with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
There are similarities.
Morton eventually lost his starting job in Dallas, spent some time with bad New York Giants teams, then rebuilt his career in Denver. Warner eventually lost his starting job in St. Louis, spent some time with the Giants (before being replaced by Manning’s younger brother, Eli), then rebuilt his career in Arizona.
“Everybody thought I was done. They thought I couldn’t play anymore. So to get back to that level and go back to the Super Bowl is a great accomplishment,” Warner said. “It’s cool to have Peyton there, after there were all the questions about his health. Similar to me, he was let go and sent off to greener pastures. He’s such a special player anyway, but here’s an opportunity to put some icing on that cake and separate himself from all the other great quarterbacks.”
The older Manning was let go by the Colts after missing all of 2011, then wooed by champion-QB-turned-executive John Elway to Denver, where No. 18 quickly resumed his year-in, year-out excellence. Manning’s offense set a passel of league records this season, including his individual passing standards of 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, which is why he’s expected to land a fifth NFL MVP award, adding to yet another mark he already holds.
And while Manning is not the sort to wax on about his standing in the game or his status in Denver, he did reflect a bit on the journey he’s been on.
“I had never switched teams before. I had no idea how long it would take to form some chemistry offensively, to get comfortable with the culture,” said Manning, who threw for 400 yards in the AFC championship game victory over the New England Patriots.
“I talked to some other players that had changed teams, and I think it depends on the individual, how you mesh with your new teammates, how comfortable you are in your new surroundings,” he said.
It’s rare for a player at any position to transition well enough from one team to another to help both win a championship.
Manning, the only member of the active rosters of the Broncos or Seahawks who’s won a Super Bowl previously, can become only the 15th starting player to win titles with two teams, according to STATS.
“It’s a real challenge to go to a different location, different group of guys. A completely new adjustment,” said Bart Oates, a center on championship clubs with the New York Giants in 1987 and 1991, and the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
“People will remember Peyton in Denver, no matter what. But if you bring them a championship, they’ll love Peyton. That’s immortalized,” Oates added. “They celebrate championships every year. They don’t celebrate runners-up.”