Not that Super: Peyton Manning struggles in big games

Nicholas Garton, Sports Editor

Over the past decade, it seems the Super Bowl has taken on a life of its own. Rarely does the talk of the town wind up being about the actual game itself. Things like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, spotty singing during the national anthem and, of course, the commercials usually hijack the Super Bowl. Not so this year.

This year, it was all about the game. There were no hijinks at halftime, just an enjoyable performance by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner” were both sung expertly. The commercials were noticeably low key and didn’t feature much in the way of fodder. The game itself took center stage.

As contests go, this was a TKO. From the opening snap to the final kneel down this Super Bowl was all about the Seattle Seahawks and their airtight defense. The Seahawks literally scored in every way possible in the sport of football: runbacks, rushes, throws, a safety and an interception returned for a touchdown. Never before have I seen such a one sided Super Bowl, but it was still compelling to watch. That was because of the utter destruction of one of the greatest players in NFL history, Peyton Manning.

That’s my preface. I won’t be one of those people who say “Before I write this let me just say I think Peyton’s a great player.” I won’t do that (although I kind of just did, but you get it).

Peyton Manning is overrated. He is great when it matters least. I won’t bore you with statistics but Manning is awesome in October against the worst teams in the NFL. He’s even great sometimes in prime time night game against good teams. But he has never been at his best in the biggest games against the best teams.

When Manning won his only Super Bowl in 2006, he threw a whopping three touchdowns during that entire Super Bowl run. Three. He threw 7 interceptions during the playoffs that year. When he returned to the Super Bowl in 2009, he threw an interception that lost the Colts the game and delivered a championship to New Orleans.

This year, he may as well have sat the Super Bowl out. Never before, at least in my time of watching football (since 1994) have I witnessed a player of Manning’s stature have such an abysmal championship game. There is no context to even put it in. He completely fell apart from the botched opening snap until his final interception. If it had been a boxing bout the referee would have been pulling Seattle’s defenders off of him 30 seconds into the opening round.

Manning now has the most playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history. What is galling about that is that in virtually all of those games, Manning had the better team. He lost because he fell apart.

When I say the name Brett Favre, it evokes a bevy of differing emotions from people. But virtually everyone hears that name and thinks of the word “interception.” It is what he is best known for, but what if I told you there was someone with more game-losing interceptions in the playoffs than Brett Favre? Well, there is and his name is Peyton Manning.

Every year the Super Bowl is supposed to be about more than just the game. There’s all the Good Morning America type of things we’re all supposed to care about. I opened this column saying that those things didn’t seem that relevant this year. This column was supposed to be all about the spectacle, the commercials, the performances, gossip.

But it was all about the game and Manning is the reason why. Maybe those things were more prevalent and memorable than I am able to recall at this moment, just hours after the final seconds ticked off the clock of Seattle’s win.

But I can’t remember any of them. All I can think of is the look on the face of Peyton Manning and the weary, battered, beaten look he had. It was jarring. It was memorable. It may even be the last image we see of him.

That would be tragic. He has been a great player at times. He is probably greater in our own minds than in reality because his gaudy statistics and records seem so spectacular.

This Super Bowl was supposed to be the coronation of a record setting season for Peyton Manning. Instead it turned out to be just like this article – a eulogy for one the NFL’s biggest icons.