Warszawski: Peyton Manning doesn't duck Richard Sherman's analysis

The Fresno BeeJanuary 30, 2014 

Richard Sherman caused a mild stir this week (yeah, I know, we expected so much more) when he equated Peyton Manning's passes to green-winged teals.

"His passes will be accurate and on time," Sherman wrote in an online column for TheMMQB.com, "but he throws ducks."

It being the Super Bowl and all, there were more than enough cameras and digital voice recorders around to turn this into a Big Story.

Sherman was made to stand by his words (which he did), but things never really escalated because anyone with one functioning eyeball knew he was dishing out truth. (Which he does more than anyone cares to admit.)

One pass from the AFC championship, on the Broncos' second-quarter touchdown drive, stands out in my gray matter. Manning took a shotgun snap on third down and out came a throw that wobbled like a raw egg spinning on a countertop.

As the football fluttered toward the left sideline and into tight coverage I sat there on the couch thinking, "No way that's a completion."

But Manning's gyroball eluded the first Patriots defender. He had his back turned and couldn't raise his arm in time. And a second arrived a split-second too late to prevent the pass from nestling into Wes Welker's abdomen just as the receiver slid to the turf, barely keeping his knee in bounds.

First down, Denver.

Flabbergasted, I hit rewind on the remote and watched the play three times.

That guy isn't a quarterback; he's an illusionist.

Manning is far and away the biggest name at the Super Bowl, so it's no surprise his place in NFL history has been a hotly debated topic.

There are those who insist with full-throated conviction that if Manning gets his second ring, with a second team, he'll become the greatest quarterback ever.

They point to Manning's four (and soon to be five) MVP trophies and his slew of regular-season records. He's coming off the most prolific passing season in NFL history (5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns) and is on track to surpass Brett Favre's career totals.

Then there's the opposite camp, folks who long ago branded Manning an underachiever and aren't about to budge.

Those people point to Manning's 11-11 postseason record and mediocre numbers in two previous Super Bowls. They bring up Tom Brady's three rings, along with his 18-8 postseason record and five Super Bowl appearances. They question how Manning can be the best of all time when he's not even the best of his era.

Far as I can tell there's only one way to settle this: Lock both sides in a closet and hope they either suffocate or stab themselves to death with their ballpoint pens.

It's such a silly argument. Trying to compare different eras of pro football is like comparing your flat screen to one of those giant console TVs from the '70s.

With four Super Bowl titles, Joe Montana is the guy many claim sits on the Greatest of All Time throne. Except Montana didn't face today's exotic defenses, and he was running an offensive system that truly was ahead of its time.

Other contenders like Johnny Unitas and Otto Graham played a different game altogether. Back in those days, mugging receivers wasn't just within the rules it was practically encouraged.

Names like Favre, Brady, Dan Marino, and even Manning's boss, John Elway, also belong in the discussion. You could throw in four or five more.

Instead of trying to assign Manning a place in the Parthenon, let's just appreciate what he's doing at 37 and post neck surgery.

That Manning is still productive, let alone directing an offense that set NFL records for points (606) and touchdowns (75), is remarkable enough.

But to do it with an arm that isn't close to what it used to be borders on the supernatural. It's practically hocus pocus.

Manning's sense of timing, ball placement and defensive positioning have to be keener than ever. Or else those wobbly passes end up in the wrong hands.

"It can be the ugliest ball, the prettiest ball, as long as it gets there, and 99.9% of the time, his passes are on the money and in the best spot they can possibly be," Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas said.

"The ball from Peyton is like catching tissue paper. No matter where you are on the field, it just falls into your hands. It's accurate, it's in the perfect spot and it's easy to catch. All you have to do is put your hands out."

No current pro athlete (with the exception of LeBron James) has been burdened with more expectations than Manning.

Born with a silver mouthpiece and famous last name. The No. 1 recruit in the country and the No. 1 pick in the draft. The rapid rise to NFL stardom and squeaky clean "every man" image honed not only by his innate friendliness but a stream of commercials that show him making pizzas, driving Buicks and willing to be the butt of jokes.

Manning has more than fulfilled those expectations, and what he has done the past two seasons, with diminished arm strength, cements his legacy among the greatest quarterbacks ever. Whether the Broncos win or lose Sunday (and I picked Seattle) won't change that.

"I do throw 'ducks,' " Manning said in response to Sherman's comment. "I've thrown a lot of yards and touchdowns 'ducks.' I am actually quite proud of it."

He should be.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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