Sunday’s 48th edition of the Super Bowl (officially called Super Bowl XLVIII) was a success for the gamblers, generally interesting for viewers — because a total of 51 points were scored — and the biggest hit in TV history for the Fox network.
Two people who really got thrown for a loss were Denver Coach John Fox, whose contract called for him to make a $1 million bonus if he brought his team home a winner, and his quarterback, Peyton Manning, who literally overnight went from being hailed as the greatest quarterback of all time to being perceived as a virtual also-ran.
That is the nature of sports, you see. Sports followers are never content with the results of games to decide which is the best team and the who are the best players. They must probe, scratch and analyze every detail of every game, every career, in a never-ending effort to determine once and for all who is the absolute best and who would beat whom if it were possible to pit the stars against stars — even from different generations.
Thus, endless debates drag on over Mantle vs. Mays, Musial vs. Williams, Russell vs. Chamberlain, Brady vs. Manning.
For Manning, the 37-year-old classy star quarterback of the throttled Denver Broncos, it might have been better to have been knocked out of the playoffs a couple of weeks earlier. He was riding a crest of accomplishment unmatched in National Football League history. He had thrown the most touchdown passes of anyone in any season and directed his team to the most points ever.
In many eyes, he had established clear superiority over the likes of history’s best: John Unitas, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Dan Marino and, yes, Tom Brady of the current New England Patriots.
Brady has been in five Super Bowls, winning three and coming very close in the other two. Manning had been in two prior to Sunday, winning one with the Indianapolis Colts.
The two are almost unanimously regarded as the best in the current era, reviving echoes of the Mantle-Mays and Russell-Chamberlain debates in baseball and basketball, respectively.
In no other sport does one team member have as much influence over an outcome of a game as a quarterback in football.
So Brady fans understandably stake their claim on the fact that the Patriots have had more success than Manning’s Colts or, now, Broncos, and that Manning is a ho-hum 11-12 in playoffs.
But Manning supporters point to his five Most Valuable Player awards and argue he hasn’t been enhanced by the Patriots’ all-around quality personnel. Quarterbacks don’t win by themselves, after all.
So the debate rages anew, revived by a lackluster performance in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Football fans are happy once again: They can spend all spring and summer arguing over something that they thought had been settled but was unsettled last Sunday.