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Peyton Manning comes in at No. 3

Peyton Manning comes in at No. 3
From ESPN - March 20, 2018

This story on No. 3 athlete Peyton Manning appears in the 20th anniversary issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

Just the cold, hard stats ought to give you some idea: two Super Bowl victories, 539 touchdown passes, seven TD completions in one game (at age 37), 55 scoring passes in a single season, 200 career NFL victories, five season MVPs. Peyton Manning is the only starting QB to win Super Bowls for two teams, the second time with a cracked neck, on his very last day as a player. Plus, all of those teeth-gnashing comebacks. I am not sure it really takes an algorithm. You can tot up excellence like this on a napkin.

Still. Complex statistics do not reveal all that interests us about No. 18's superiority. They document who did this and who did that, but "who's actually better" is left un-agreed-upon -- as it should be. In my line of indoor work -- and what you are reading now is my line of indoor work -- all I have to be is excellent, not better than Margaret Atwood. Admittedly, of course, my stakes are not the same as in football.

Thought of in this binary way, dominance takes on a slightly serio-comic gladiatorial spoofy-ness; visions of gleaming and greased muscle-bound Victor Matures, brandishing stubby swords at the bared necks of some poor guys who are being ... well ... dominated.

It's also true that "dominance" does not and probably ca not mean "dominant for all time." Unless the NFL goes out of business soon (a different story), the future ca not effectively be dominated. Domination will always be an essentially nostalgic concept consigned to the present, and also (of course) to the past.

Stats likewise have a hard time being authoritative about the whys, hows and wherefores of a career such as Manning's. I am talking about the oft-invoked intangibles, the attributes that "ca not be taught," which live in the DNA of any great performer, from Nureyev to Maria Callas. Manning was loaded with these. Archie and Olivia's genes, for starters.

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