Peyton Mannings legacy secure with one Super Bowl
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Peyton Mannings legacy secure with one Super Bowl

If I hear one more talking head question the legacy of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning based on the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII (granted, Manning’s Broncos lost to Seattle 43-8), I might slip into a coma.

If such reasoning becomes accepted, I might emerge from that coma believing Dennis Rodman is an international diplomat.

Do you know how many Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks never won one Super Bowl (answer below)?

And somehow it’s logical to make a case to downgrade Manning’s legacy for only winning one of three?

Do you know how many Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks never made it to Super Bowl (answer below)?

First of all, the premise that Manning’s legacy would be based on one Super Bowl late in his career was faulty to begin with. Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. His fans can argue he’s the greatest, but there are holes to punch in that case.

Just as no one has come along to challenge the numbers Jim Brown put up running the football in an age of limited passing and balanced offenses, Johnny Unitas remains unchallenged at quarterback.

The NFL had to change the rules — allowing for more passing and scoring — for a quarterback to break Unitas’ record of 47 straight games with a touchdown pass set between 1956 and 1960 with the Baltimore Colts. And then it took 52 years and until Drew Brees broke it for New Orleans in 2012.

I love Drew Brees, but it’s a different game now. It’s scary to think what Johnny U (or Joe Namath) would have done with today’s rules. Even still, with the advantages of the modern game, third on the list is Tom Brady at a distance 37 straight games with a touchdown pass.

When Unitas rolled up 47 straight games with a touchdown pass, his receivers were bumped at the line of scrimmage and all the way down the field. There were no hands-off pass coverage rules.

When Unitas rolled up 47 straight games, defensive ends head-slapped offensive tackles as they rushed the quarterback. The offensive linemen couldn’t push off with their hands as they do now. They had to keep their hands close to their chest or draw a holding penalty.

When Unitas rolled up 47 straight games, football was based on running the ball. There were no four wide-out formations or empty backfields.

Thank goodness Johnny U didn’t have to play in the era of ESPN, Fox Sports, copycat local sports radio stations and social media. He might have been playing for his legacy in his two Super Bowls.

In the 1968 season, when Unitas and the Baltimore Colts played Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, Johnny U was 35 years old. He was two years younger than Manning was in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Unitas was the NFL MVP in 1967, but he hurt his arm in 1968 and Earl Morrill replaced him. Morrall won the NFL MVP in 1968, but when he struggled in Super Bowl III, Colts head coach Don Shula sent Johnny U in with the hopes he could tap some old drama.

Unitas trotted onto the field with his hunched-shoulders and ailing knees and the Colts trailing 16-0. He guided Baltimore to a touchdown, closing the gap to 16-7 early in the fourth quarter. But the Jets managed to run out the clock for most of the fourth period.

If ESPN, Fox Sports, copycat local sports radio stations or social media were around for Super Bowl III played on Jan. 12, 1969 at the Orange Bowl, Unitas would have roundly dismissed as a loser.

“Legacy tarnished … imposter … old man who can’t run or throw… bum.”

Two years later the Colts returned to Super Bowl V and Morrall and the aging Unitas both played in the win over Dallas. No one back then was saying, “Ah, hah! Unitas’ legacy is preserved. He’s a winner, after all.”

For Manning, the 2013 NFL MVP and future Hall-of-Famer, 

Here’s the club he joins of Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks with one Super Bowl ring: 

  • Len Dawson, Kansas City
  • Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers
  • Namath 
  • Morrall 
  • Unitas

Here’s the club of Hall-of-Fame QBs lacking a ring who played in a Super Bowl: 

  • Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (0-for-1)
  • Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills (0-for-4)
  • Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings (0-for-3)

Is Ken Stabler a better quarterback than Tarkenton because his Oakland Raiders beat Tarkenton’s Vikings in Super Bowl XI? Is Jeff Hostetler a better quarterback than Kelly because his New York Giants beat Kelly’s Bills in Super Bowl XXV?

Here’s the club of Hall-of-Fame QBS who never made it to a Super Bowl: 

  • Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers; 
  • Sonny Jurgensen, Washington Redskins; 
  • Warren Moon, Houston Oilers (among other teams).

By the way, here’s a list of quarterbacks who, like Manning, lost two or more Super Bowls: 

  • Roger Staubach (Hall of Fame), 2; 
  • John Elway (Hall of Fame), 3; 
  • Tom Brady (future Hall-of-Famer), 2; 
  • Kurt Warner, 2.

Losers — all of them! Just like Peyton Manning.

Yeah, right. And Dennis Rodman is the answer to our problems with North Korea.

Answer to first question, 6; second question, 3

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer,, and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."