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How much more valuable could Peyton Manning be?!

January 11, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

I had to chuckle when a reporter at Peyton Manning’s press conference Saturday asked Manning if this year’s MVP honor meant more because of the stiff competition he outgunned for the award.

In case you live in a cave, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback was named National Football League MVP for a record fourth time.

Manning is no fool—on or off the field. His answer to the question was as spot on as the spirals he throws between the white lines on Sundays.

He praised Drew Brees, Brett Favre and the rest of the MVP candidates. But c’mon. The disparity between Manning and the rest is greater than the beat down the Baltimore Ravens put on the New England Patriots Sunday.
It’s like comparing Johnny Unitas to Bert Jones. Both fine former Colts quarterbacks who piloted their teams to the playoffs, but really, no comparison.

I said on this blog earlier this season, that in time, the tellers of history who know anything about football will call Peyton Manning the best quarterback ever to lace up the cleats and don a helmet. I stand by that, but I’d add this: It’s by a very wide margin.
There’s no Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks. It’s simply Manning … then everyone else. Manning will never ever say that, but that’s the way it is.

Then I get to listen to Mike Greenberg wax poetic on ESPN Radio this morning, and he unleashes this pearl: Manning might … (might!) be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who knows, maybe even the greatest … especially if he can win a second Super Bowl. No less an authority than Mike Golic firmly agreed.

C’mon Greenberg, I know you’re just a fan, but get in the game. Yes, I know. Brady 3, Manning 1.

But really. How much more valuable could Manning prove to be? Didn’t we all see what the Colts are without him. For more on this, see: Colts last two games this year. Good grief, Brady was replaced in Bill Belichick’s system quite nicely last year by Matt Cassel. And we all saw how well Cassel did in Kansas City this year.

A guy—any guy—can have a bad game. That doesn’t diminish his greatness over an entire career. Manning could lay a complete egg against Baltimore Saturday night (or in any other playoff game this year), and that still wouldn’t change this reality. He has lifted not only his team, but this league to a higher plateau, with his act in the locker room and with the press. And don’t forget his splendor as a pitchman.
For the record, I’m not saying Manning is as perfect off the field as he is on it. But he certainly plays the part well. And he keeps any distractions to a bare minimum.

That aside, it’s Manning’s play on the field that is truly remarkable.
Manning’s salary cap number this year is almost $19 million. That’s about 17 percent of the Colts’ entire roster. He’s worth every penny, relatively speaking. Not one player in the Colts locker room has ever grumbled out loud about Manning’s paycheck. And remember, every dollar Manning makes in this salary cap era is a dollar less for the rest of the Colts’ 52 players.

Manning isn’t so much a look at the future of quarterbacking as he is a glimpse into the past.

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach was once knocked because he didn’t call his own plays. He could never be compared, football experts said, to the likes of Namath, Tarkington and Griese because his coach, Tom Landry, shuttled in the plays.
But at least Staubach didn’t tape a cheat sheet to his wrist during games. For that trick, look no further than Brady, Brees, Romo et al. I’m not saying those gentlemen aren’t good quarterbacks. But to compare them to Manning is absurd. Completely absurd.
There simply is no comparison to Manning. What he does is completely out of context. That’s why so many people don’t understand what they’re seeing.
Manning, like the great quarterbacks of the 1960s and 1970s, is calling his own plays. But instead of scratching them in the dirt back in the huddle, he’s calling them on the fly at the line of scrimmage.
It’s not an audible. There’s a big difference between changing from play A to play B because there's one more of less man in the box as opposed to assessing the defensive set-up, its strengths and weaknesses and instantly computing that against the abilities of your own personnel, putting them in place and calling the perfect play (one of dozens to choose from), then executing it nearly perfectly.
Half the stuff the Colts do on the field is only possible because the team’s game-day offensive coordinator wears a helmet and cleats.

He’s doing things that have simply never been done. Manning’s ability to take mass amounts of information, crunch it up and spit it out in one mind numbing performance after another is enough to make Bill Gates green with envy. If only Windows could harness such horsepower.

And here’s the happy part if you’re a Colts fan, and the scary part if you’re an opponent. Manning, who is in his 12th season, could play another eight seasons if he wants.
Yes, a concussion or two, or a blown knee could change all that. But Manning doesn’t take lots of hits. He’s simply too smart for that. Besides, the mind ages much more slowly than the body, and Manning's mind is his greatest weapon.

The odds of Manning playing effectively into his 40s (again, if he so desires) is greater than for any other quarterback currently playing the game. OK, Favre obviously must be included in this part of the discussion.

Still, I laugh at the notion that Favre is putting the all-time quarterbacking records out of Manning’s range by hanging around so long. Nonsense. Manning will break every one of Favre’s records (except interceptions) and it won’t even be close. Unless he has a mid-life crisis and decides to join the Ricky Williams School of Island Living and Relaxation.

Manning, valuable? You bet.
So how much more valuable will another Super Bowl ring make him?
Well, that measuring stick is easy to compute. Manning needs one more to equal Ben Roethlisberger, two more to equal Brady and former Dallas QB Troy Aikman and three more to tie Terry Bradshaw.

Anyone can understand those numbers. They’re enough to make the biggest bandwagon fans stand up and cheer.

But when that cheering dies down, consider this: The real relative value of what Manning does? Impossible to compute.
Because Super Bowl rings or no, there simply is no comparison to this piece of history we’re watching.

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