Cumberland Times-News

February 1, 2014

Win or lose, Manning is no greater, no less great

Mike Burke
Cumberland Times-News

— Just as most of you are, I am looking forward to today’s Super Bowl. Clearly, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks are the best teams in football this year so it’s just that they will be playing for all the marbles.

I picked Denver to win, but then I believe I picked San Francisco to win last year, even though I was for Baltimore. This year, in the words of Frank Burns, it really makes me no never mind, even though I find myself pulling for Seattle.

Why Seattle? Why not? What has Seattle ever done to anybody other than wrongfully have its NBA team swiped away? Lot of great movies come out of Seattle. And the Seattle Mariners were kind enough to hand-deliver the nucleus of a pretty good baseball team to the Baltimore Orioles in sending Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, Chris Tillman and Tony Butler this way for Erik Bedard.

(Of course, the Texas Rangers sent the Orioles Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara, but there’s not an Orioles trade in the world good enough to allow me to root for the Dallas Cowboys.)

A good friend of mine, the affable Sean Franklin, roots for the Seahawks as well — always has. So you pull for your friends, right? Right off the top of my head I can’t think of a friend of mine who roots for Denver, although, like Seattle, what reason is there to ever root against Denver? Sure, the thin air can make you a little nutty, but what a great city.

Not crazy-nutso about Seattle coach Pete Carroll, mind you, as he represents all that is sleazy about college football. But he’s in the pros now so it’s all right to be sleazy, although don’t tell that to Joe Gibbs. And really, let’s not kid ourselves, college football is about as sleazy as it gets anyway.

Love how the Seahawks play defense, too. And I’m fascinated by Richard Sherman. Not only is he the best cover corner in the game, he earned two degrees at Stanford. Did he make a fool of himself two weeks ago? Sure, but who hasn’t done that? He’s a Stanford man for goodness sakes. Ask Jim Harbaugh. He was there.

On the other side, of course, we have John Elway, who runs the Broncos, and Peyton Manning, who quarterbacks the Broncos. What’s not to like here?

Elway? You’re still mad at Elway about the Colts thing? Don’t be mad at him. He played his cards and won. If you want to be mad at somebody, be mad at the late Bob Irsay (as though we needed another reason) for trading Elway against the wishes of his general manager Erine Accorsi. Accorsi was willing to allow Elway to hold out and ride the bush league buses, with no intention of ever trading him. As he said in Tom Callahan’s brilliant book, “The GM: The Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmares that Go with It”, if the Colts had outwaited Elway the way they should have, he’d have eventually caved and they’d still be in Baltimore to this day. That’s how good John Elway was.

But of course, just how great Elway was is kind of forgotten these days because we are in the Super Bowl era (and egads! Elway lost three before he won two) and we have ESPN coming at us full force 24/7.

Being in the Super Bowl era means football was never really played before Jan. 15, 1967 when the first Super Bowl (that day known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game) was played, despite what all of those poor broken-down old football players who are suing the NFL want to tell themselves. ESPN coming at us full force means anything and anybody that happens today — right now — is the greatest thing, the greatest game or the greatest player of all time.

Can’t stand ESPN. It’s like being surrounded by dirty air. You know it’s toxic, but sometimes you just have to breathe it. Worse, by its mere arrogant we-are-the-story presence (and it’s annoying over-use of the phrase “on the planet”), ESPN forces some of us to have to root for Fox to succeed with its sports network. And rooting for Fox just makes us feel kind of dirty, you know?

Look, not only is Peyton Manning as likeable as anybody in professional sports (or on the planet), he’s also one of the great quarterbacks of all time. But you mean to tell me, if he wins his second Super Bowl today he is the greatest quarterback of all time, but if the Broncos lose today he’s not? That’s just sick, twisted thinking. But this is where we are in sports fandom today. Something has to be the greatest of all time now or it just never can be. Sorry, no matter what happens today it won’t make Manning any greater or any less greater than he has already proven himself to be.

Troy Aikman, Sammy Baugh, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Otto Graham, Sonny Jurgensen, Jim Kelly, Bobby Layne, Sid Luckman, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, John Unitas, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield, Steve Young ...

Sure, we’re all blessed to our opinion, but you mean to tell me that if you state unequivocally that any one quarterback is absolutely the greatest quarterback of all time it makes it so? If you really believe it does, then you’re as nutty and as self-absorbed as ESPN is. Just not as rich.

Besides, everybody knows it’s Unitas anyway.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at