By Karl Terry
He can’t win the big game.
That’s the big knock on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
That argument is hogwash and has nothing to do with Manning’s greatness or his team’s chances today in the Super Bowl.
Another great quarterback wore the same tag around his neck — even longer than Manning has. Fortunately for John Elway, he finally “won the big one” and erased that last doubt about his greatness as a quarterback and athlete. My prediction and hope is that Manning will do the same thing today.
Yeah, I’ve been a Bronco fan since the days of the Orange Crush. With players like Lyle Alzado and Randy Gradishar it was fairly easy to convert from my leanings toward Dallas since birth. That was real football — sometimes real dirty football.
When Elway came along in 1983 — ironically after not wanting to play for the Colts — we all figured sooner or later he was going to be the last piece to the puzzle in getting a Super Bowl victory. We just didn’t know it was going to be 15 years and two big heartbreaks before we finally completed that jigsaw puzzle.
We could get some of the pieces in place and others would let us down. Retirements, injuries or salary caps kept getting in the way. Other things that got in the way were really good Giants and 49ers teams led by really great quarterbacks like Phil Simms and Joe Montana. We won’t talk too much about that 1988 embarrassment against Washington. They had neither a great team or great leaders. They were just the recipients of a huge second quarter gift from the Bronco defense, which was no longer the Orange Crush.
Both Elway and Manning were expected from birth to be great quarterbacks and in the end that will probably prove to be a bigger monkey on their backs than not winning the big game. Families, coaches, teammates and fans all expected them to deliver great things every play. Elway did and Manning still is delivering great things.
As good as any athlete in a team sport is, though, they can’t deliver it all on their own.
Watching Manning run his no-huddle earlier in the season, he was so smooth and so cool it didn’t seem like he could be beat — like Elway looked sometimes. I know that just the aura of confidence surrounding the two quarterbacks itself is at least a one-touchdown advantage.
But as Elway and legions of Bronco fans found out, that advantage and confidence is worthless in the Super Bowl unless all the pieces show up for that big game. The Super Bowl was the scene of Bronco fans’ most humiliating defeats as well as their greatest memories.
When Elway and the Broncos finally shook the monkey off their backs in 1998, in a game where they were the underdog, it was the running of Terrell Davis that propelled them to the win. But it was also the leadership and experience of Elway that held the pieces together long enough to snatch the win from Brett Farve and the Packers.
The play of the game was Elway’s “helicopter,” when he dove for a critical first down and his 37-year-old legs spun like the blades of a helicopter after a mid-air hit.
I cried for joy for the aging quarterback because I knew right then he wasn’t going to let it slip away this time.
Manning has that same leadership ability and experience. If his team steps up enough to get close to the brass ring, he will be there with the play that will make the difference.
Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or e-mail: Karl_Terry@link.freedom.com