John Elway is clutch. Joe Montana is cool. Troy Aikman is collected. Terry Bradshaw is bald, and Peyton Manning is -- well, what exactly is he? The Colts quarterback has been hailed for years as this generation's greatest quarterback, but he's already 30 years old in his ninth season with the Indianapolis Colts and is just now making his first trip to the Super Bowl.
Then again, that's more than he can say for the rest of his famous family. His father, Archie, never made it. Through 12 seasons in the NFL, Archie experienced only one season without a losing record as quarterback when his New Orleans Saints went 8-8 in 1978. Peyton's brother, Eli, has completed three seasons with the New York Giants -- who traded for Manning in the 2004 NFL Draft. In exchange, the San Diego Chargers received quarterback Philip Rivers and two draft picks (the latter turned out to be defensive end Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding. All three Charger players were selected to the 2007 Pro Bowl).
So in the Manning house, Peyton is the rising star. On Sunday, the son and star will have his chance to shine on professional sports' grandest stage. But the impact of this Super Bowl on the rest of Manning's career could be startling. Will the son win and continue to rise from dawn to day? Or will he lose and descend from dusk to the dead of night?
OK, a bit dramatic? Perhaps. But Peyton was plagued throughout his career for losing when it counted. He was touted as tops in the league, but Manning's critics would point to his predecessors. Elway arrived at his first Super Bowl in his third season with the Denver Broncos. Former San Francisco 49er Montana claimed his first of four Super Bowls in his third season as a starter. Bradshaw, too. It took Aikman three seasons to make his first appearance in Pasadena, Calif., with the Dallas Cowboys. Meanwhile, Manning marks his ninth season with his first appearance, raising the stakes of his legacy and straddling the fine line between great and greatest.
Make no mistake about it. This isn't the Chicago Bears' Super Bowl to win. This is Peyton Manning's to lose. Now, don't confuse my words for disrespect toward "Da Bears." I'm simply shining the bright light of truth in a dark corner. If Peyton Manning is the best quarterback of this generation -- the blue knight atop the white horse -- he finally has the whole world watching him.
If Manning makes history, bringing the Colts their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis franchise history, his marketing machine will be unstoppable and his fame undeniable. Cable will devote an entire channel to Manning. Pey-per-view will feature such shows as "Manning Tanning," "Datin' with Peyton" and a half-hour section every weekday where former Colts running back Edgerrin James will sit on a couch, curse the gods and cry at his misfortunes. But before a single salty tear slips from James' eyes, Manning will be well on his way to Disney World.
Then again, what if the Colts crumble? What if they are led out to pasture by a burly Bears defense? The "greatest" will be demoted to "great," and Manning's "best-ever" legacy might travel down the latrine. Peyton will begin anew and enter his 10th season playing in a league whose popularity is only surpassed by its parity. Manning might never surface at another Super Bowl, despite passing his name into every record the NFL has ever held. Don't believe me? Just ask hall of famer Dan Marino. If Peyton loses, the blue knight atop the white horse will ride off into a sunset until dusk turns to dark, and dark to night.
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