In the immediate 48 hours after Super Bowl XLIV concluded, I was much too emotional to put Peyton Manning's career thus far in its proper perspective.
I had to wait out the apologists, the broadcasters, journalists, coaches and executives who act as Manning's secret-service agents, hurling their bodies/integrity in front of every criticism -- no matter how minute -- directed at the Indianapolis quarterback.
These "Men In Peyton's Crack" first trampled Reggie Wayne's reputation, blaming the receiver for lazily telegraphing the route that led to Manning's game-deciding pick-six interception. The MIPC next resorted to diversionary tactics, blasting Pierre Garcon for dropping a second-quarter pass, Hank Baskett for failing to field an onside kick and Jim Caldwell for daring to ask his offense to run the ball on third-and-1 from deep inside Indy territory.
Finally, the director of the MIPC, Colts president/general manager Bill Polian, took the drastic step of throwing Manning's offensive line under the bus, claiming the unit that didn't allow a Super Bowl sack and opened running lanes that produced 5.2 yards per carry was "outplayed pretty decisively" by the Saints' defensive line.
Mission accomplished. Hardly anyone noticed -- or commented -- Manning duplicated LeBron James' sore-loser routine, walking off the field without congratulating any of his opponents.
By Wednesday morning, I was so upset I grabbed my laptop and reached for The Card. I was going to make this column all about the elephant in the room:
In the biggest sporting event in the world, with a record number of people watching and on the game's most important play, a black defensive back outsmarted a beloved white quarterback.
I know. That's a truth many of you can't handle. It makes you uncomfortable. You don't even get what I'm really saying. All of us -- white, black and brown -- get so caught up in our stereotypes that we oftentimes miss what is right in front of us.
Tracy Porter outsmarted Peyton Manning and won the Super Bowl for New Orleans. End of story.
I've listened to black and white analysts -- including Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Cris Carter and others -- point to everything but the truth when it comes to pinpointing the Super Bowl's critical play and affixing blame for it.
Had John Lynch read Brett Favre like a book in Super Bowl XXXIII and decided the game with a fourth-quarter pick-six, there wouldn't have been any talk about a sloppy pass route, mistakes made in the first half and an onside kick that led to a three-point third-quarter lead.
Favre was never hailed as the game's smartest player. Lynch, like most white athletes, was always given credit for being "heady."
Some of you who read my column regularly think I have a major problem with Peyton Manning. I don't. I enjoy watching him play. I admire the values he and his family project. I respect his work ethic. Even with an incomplete resume that will only improve, he is already one of the 10 best quarterbacks of all time.
What annoys me is the hype, the apologists, the he-does-no-wrong treatment from my peers in the media. It's the same thing that bothers me about LeBron James and used to bother me about Brett Favre. Based solely on potential, they're prematurely anointed a level of greatness their accomplishments haven't earned. It's the Obama Principle.
I wanted Manning to win Super Bowl XLIV, play at a high level and justify all the hype. I was prepared to join the bandwagon hailing him as one of the five best QBs of all time and a real threat to finish as the greatest of all time.
It didn't happen. He blew the game with a horrible INT. He took some air out of his hype balloon. The Men In Peyton's Crack don't want to admit it. They foolishly compare Manning to John Elway, claiming that, like Elway early in his career, Manning suffers from a weak supporting cast. Manning's defenders have the audacity to say that Terrell Davis carried Elway to his two Super Bowl victories.
This is what truly enrages me. It's the knocks on Elway -- The Greatest Football Player of All Time -- that send me over the edge.
When compared to Elway, Peyton Manning's NFL career was born sliding into home plate. As a rookie, Manning walked into a locker room that had future Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison and the league's best GM, Bill Polian. By year six, Manning was working with veterans such as Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Marcus Pollard and Dwight Freeney. By year nine, when Manning finally qualified for and won a Super Bowl, he was carried by a Tony Dungy defense that covered up Manning's three-TD, seven-INT, subpar playoff run.
Meanwhile, Elway spent his first decade in the league working with Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson, Gaston Green, Sammy Winder, Bobby Humphrey, Clarence Kay, Steve Watson and a defensive-minded head coach, Dan Reeves, who was afraid to unleash Elway until he absolutely had to. In Elway's 10th season (1992), third-year tight end Shannon Sharpe was elevated to a full-time starter, and it marked the first time in Elway's career he threw the ball to a Pro Bowl tight end or receiver.
Elway dragged slop to Super Bowls in 1986, 1987 and 1989.
It's an absolute lie that Manning has taken terrible teams to the Super Bowl. Polian built the Super Bowl Bills teams and the expansion Carolina squad that advanced to the NFC Championship in its second season. Polian has never built a one-man team.
I've spent the past four days thinking about and researching NFL quarterbacks. Most people don't even know how to properly define the QB debate. It's not about which quarterback you'd prefer for one game or even one season. It's not about which quarterback in his prime you'd start a franchise with right now.
Football is constantly evolving. The game today is considerably different from the game in the 1960s and 1970s. Each decade -- '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s -- has a distinct personality. Think about it. In the 1960s, segregation and an unstated quota on black players had an impact on style of play. For most of the 1970s, defenders could molest receivers, treat quarterbacks like tackling dummies and use the head slap. The 1980s saw the transition to a finesse game.
It was a process turning the NFL into a John Madden video game that limits contact with the quarterback to two-hand touch.
The greatest quarterback of all time is the one who could excel in all five eras. The criteria is: Which quarterback would you prefer to start a franchise with in any decade?
I've eliminated Otto Graham and Y.A. Tittle from the conversation. I didn't see them play. And they played in eras severely damaged by segregation.
Here are the 10 greatest QBs of all time:
1. John Elway: Tremendous athleticism. He was Vince Young, except he could throw it accurately to any place on the field. Defensive coordinators and safeties feared his long arm so much that running backs Gaston Green, Bobby Humphrey and Sammy Winder all earned Pro Bowl berths taking handoffs from Elway. But the myth is Elway benefitted from Terrell Davis and Davis didn't benefit from Elway. Made the Broncos relevant and dangerous for 16 straight years.
2. Joe Montana: In 10 seasons as a full-time starter in San Francisco, Montana won four Super Bowls, three SB MVPs and two AP league MVPs. He finishes No. 2 because he's not as big, strong and athletic as Elway. Montana excelled in a rhythm and timing passing game. How would he perform in the era when DBs were actually allowed to defend receivers?
3. Johnny Unitas: On this, I defer to the old-timers who swear Mr. Unitas was as good as the modern QBs. He tossed 32 touchdowns in 1959! He led 34 fourth-quarter comebacks, which is second-best all time. He was MVP of the league three times and first-team all-pro five times. He dominated and defined the position throughout the 1960s.
4. Dan Marino: I don't care that he never won a Super Bowl. The dude was awesome. Marino -- not Elway -- holds the record for fourth-quarter comeback victories with 36. Elway is credited with 47, but indisputable research at profootball-reference.com proves that Marino is the real record holder. Marino set the table for the game we have today. His 48-TD, 5,000-yard sophomore season is the equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain's 50-points-a-game season.
5. Steve Young: You could make a strong case for Young being No. 2 behind Elway. He's just as athletic as Elway. Problem is, Young's resume isn't quite long enough to justify it. He had seven great seasons in San Francisco. He rode the bench behind Montana for four seasons, wasted two seasons in Tampa Bay and two seasons in the USFL. In seven seasons as a starter, Young made the Pro Bowl seven times, was all-pro three times, won the league's MVP award twice and won a Super Bowl and SB MVP trophy.
6. Tom Brady: Every name listed above his quarterbacked at least one losing team. Brady has never led a loser. Never. To me, he epitomizes winning at the QB position, even more than Montana. Joe had Jerry Rice for three of his four Super Bowl victories. Brady won three Super Bowls with Troy Brown. Brady is a combination old-school, new-school quarterback.
7. Brett Favre: He owns all the records good and bad. He's durable. He's courageous. Teammates love to play with him. He would be a star in the 1920s. It's popular to trash Favre now. The game of football is far better with him than without him. If he comes back next season and gets a second Super Bowl, no one will ever doubt his greatness.
8. Peyton Manning: He might one day move into the top five of this list. But not today. Manning is perfect for the Madden video game era. You put him in the 1960s and 1970s -- when defenders could beat up QBs -- and he just might be Jim Everett. Remember the scrambling play Eli Manning made to win XLII? Peyton would've never have made that play because he would've fallen to the ground long before a defender touched him. Again, I like Peyton. He just has some work to do before we overlook his shortcomings and anoint him.
9. Roger Staubach: People forget he missed four seasons because of his commitment to the Naval Academy. He was a 27-year-old rookie in 1969. Think of what his career might have been without his service to our country. He won two Super Bowls and was a six-time Pro Bowler despite an abbreviated career.
10. Fran Tarkenton: He was a great player in two decades -- the 1960s and '70s. He quarterbacked the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances. He played 18 seasons. He could scramble. He was an accurate passer, completing 60 percent of his passes five of his final six seasons. This was long before a 60-precent completion rate was common place. We often overlook Tarkenton's sustained greatness.
You can e-mail Jason at BallState0@aol.com or follow him on Twitter .