Don’t be fooled by what could emerge as the narrative and talk of legacy if the Denver Broncos hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
A victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 tonight will only occur if Denver get a total team effort, spearheaded by their renowned defence.
It won’t be the result of Peyton Manning donning a cape and saving the team, as much as the ensuing talk might suggest.
Up to this point, a majority of the credit for the Broncos reaching the Super Bowl has been rightly placed on the defence.
They’ve been getting their due for being the NFL’s best this season and arguably one of the top units in the league’s history.
But the euphoria in the aftermath of the grandest stage in American sports has a way of eliciting the most knee-jerk of reactions, especially when it comes to quarterbacks.
Yes, quarterback is the most important position in football, if not the most important position in all of team sport.
That often means receiving too much credit when things go well and enduring too much blame when things go wrong.
It’s easy to point to the quarterback, who is usually the face of the team, and make them the singular representation for what happens on the field.
It’s low-hanging fruit, but even more so in Manning’s present case.
The 39-year-old may be called ‘The Sheriff’, but these days, his role on the field is more akin to a deputy.
Manning has turned into a caretaker of the offence, essentially tasked with holding on to the ball and occasionally scoring points.
Basically, as long as Manning doesn’t mess up, Denver will be in position to win.
But because he’s a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, his prior accomplishments and abilities will colour what could be his last significant moment if the Broncos win the title.
You can already picture the headlines: ‘Manning proves doubters wrong’ or ‘Manning saves best for last’, as if he alone will be more responsible for Denver’s fortunes than the 11 players on the other side of the ball.
It’s certainly possible Manning could play well enough to actually merit the praise, maybe by painting his most surprising masterpiece or leading a fourth-quarter comeback, but that would be flying in the face of a season’s worth of evidence that he just isn’t capable of what he once was.
It would, however, be incredibly ironic if Manning was to win the second ring of his career being as ancillary of a figure as a quarterback can get after repeatedly carrying teams but only netting one Super Bowl victory at his peak.
It just goes to show that as much influence as the quarterback has, there are other players on the field with plenty of power in their own hands.
That’s why someone like Trent Dilfer owns a championship ring while Dan Marino has to settle for the title of best quarterback to never taste Super Bowl glory.
So regardless of what happens tonight, let’s not lose sight that Manning wouldn’t be here without his defence and their role will be just as important, if not more, than The Sheriff’s.
Manning will enter the game firmly entrenched as one of the game’s greatest and he’ll exit the same way.
No more, no less.
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