Why Peyton Manning is an Icon

I friend sent me a note analyzing data on NFL quarterbacks past and present, and came up with this top five based on a points system that ranked the top 40 all time quarterbacks on a number of dimensions, such that the lowest score is the best:

1. Joe Montana - 54 Points
1. Tom Brady - 54 Points
3. John Elway - 68 Points
4. Terry Bradshaw - 84 Points
5. Peyton Manning - 86 Points
Even without going through the numbers, I can live with this.  The conundrum is that Peyton feels to many, including me, like he may be the greatest of all time, but nearly any numerical or scientific analysis puts him behind other quarterbacks, including Tom Brady.  So why do our hearts tell us something else?  I have two hypotheses:
  1.  He is the most interesting guy in the history of the NFL before the ball is snapped.  This is a criteria I never would have thought even existed 10 years ago.  But Peyton has made watching the team at the line of scrimmage before the play starts totally compelling.  No one in history is even close.   Think of all the great quarterbacks in history -- you think of them throwing, right?  With Montana, for example, I see those slants to Jerry Rice, hitting him in stride.  Now, how do you picture Peyton?  Yelling Omaha at the line of scrimmage.
  2.  He is money in advertisements and live appearances (e.g. Saturnday Night Live).  Have you seen Joe Montana's and Farvre's ads?  Stiff.  How much better would Peyton have been in There's Something About Mary?  Only Bradshaw is close.

Peyton gets dinged for being a poor bad-weather quarterback.  I am not sure if the numbers support this hypothesis, but he would have to go a long way to being worse than Aikman was.  I was in Dallas during their three Aikman-era superbowls (actually I lived in Denver for their 2, and St Louis for theirs, and Arizona for theirs, all of which is payback for growing up an Oiler fan).   Aikman always disappointed in bad weather.  The one year of their four year run in the 90's that they did not go to the Superbowl, they lost to SF in the Conference championships.  That day, the moment I saw it was raining, I knew the Cowboys were doomed.


  1. Chris:

    Can you put up link to the analysis? I'd like to see some others like Young, Favre, Marino.

  2. Donald S:

    how would Manning have done in Ace Ventura though? can't blame Marino for mocking his own gloves commercials either...

  3. Another_Brian:

    I don't really follow football, but perhaps something else that affects the numbers is that Manning is still actively playing. His numbers will continue to improve through the rest of his career, while all those other guys won't move beyond where they are right now.

    Among currently active quarterbacks, Manning ranks the highest and can only be compared with the greatest of all time. Once he's retired, see where he ranks with all those other retired guys.

  4. morgan.c.frank:

    it's also a proximity thing i think.

    manning just had maybe the best season a qb has ever had and broke some huge records.

    long ago seems long ago, right now tend to carry more cognitive weight.

  5. DensityDuck:

    Pretty sure that the analysis makes the same mistake as most fantasy-league scoring, which is that it focuses on completed passes and touchdowns, and ignores ball progression. I haven't yet seen a FFL that gives points for first downs, or for, say, conversions on third-and-long, even though these are at least as important to the game as scoring.


  6. jdgalt:

    I followed the Niners closely during Montana's reign, and while he was very good, the credit for their performance belongs to their entire team, which was both very versatile and had great depth at every position. (Even the backup QB, Steve Young, was very good, and I'm amazed that he achieved the career numbers that he did in spite of sitting on the bench those five or six seasons.) On any given play, Montana had at least three, usually four, good receivers and tight ends he could throw to, and at least two, often more, good running backs he could hand off to. He could also scramble for yards himself very well. Best of all, his offensive line gave him plenty of time to make up his mind, leaving the other team's defense with the impossible task of blocking all those avenues at once.

    Since the draft system seems to be designed to prevent any team (especially one with a recent winning record) from accumulating that many great athletes at one time, I can only conclude that the Niners were really lucky in (1) drafting college players who turned out to be superb, and (2) not having any of their important people get injured. The Niners of the last ten years have been much less lucky in both those ways, and it shows in their results.

  7. Chris:

    Did you not see Tom Brady at number 1?

  8. Another_Brian:

    No, I didn't. And like I said, I don't really follow football, so wouldn't have had any idea if you hadn't said something.

  9. treeher:

    I'm a Steeler fanatafan, but Bradshaw doesn't belong on this list. Yes, he won 4 SBs, but that was mostly with history's best defense ever. Brad wasn't even the starting QB at the beginning of 74 season. Lifetime, he threw only two more TDs than interceptions, and that's because he had two TDs in his final abbreviated season. Maybe these stats give too much weight to the SBs. For my money, Marino is up there in the top three. He set incredible passing records in an era that favored the defense much more than today. Unfortunately, he was doomed to play for rotten Miami teams.

  10. MingoV:

    There are more games per season now than decades ago. I'm sure that affects the rankings.

  11. Bob K:

    Brett Favre, the winningest QB of all time doesn't even make the top five?

  12. Todd Ramsey:

    Manning is the greatest of all time.

    Montana? Please. When he went down, Steve Young improved upon his statistics and won a Super Bowl. When he went down, Jeff Garcia became a Pro Bowl quarterback. All are products of that amazing Bill Walsh offense. How did Montana do in Kansas City?

    Brady? No. He missed a season and Matt Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record.

    Elway? Don't think so. He had a lot of mediocre years in Denver before Shanahan brought the zone blocking scheme that gave Denver such a great running game -- the real force behind their Super Bowl victories.

    Bradshaw. Not. Had a hard time beating out Joe Gilliam. Was widely regarded as stupid at the time. Played with one of the all-time great defenses. Eight of the 21 other Steeler starters during his glory years are NFL Hall of Famers .

    The common narrative above is Super Bowl victories. If that's the criteria, these quarterbacks obviously won a lot of Super Bowls. But be prepared to justify Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Jeff Rutledge, and Trent Dilfer as comparable to Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Super Bowl victories have more to do with the team a QB plays for than his raw ability.

    Manning took a mediocre Colts team with so-so defenses to the playoffs every year. When he got injured, the Colts went 2-14. With the Broncos this year AT AGE 37, he broke every significant single season passing record and the team scored a record number of points. The best of all time, hands down.

    That said, they will lose by two touchdowns against Seattle this weekend. Seahawk defense is awesome.

  13. obloodyhell:

    So personality is important to a quarterback? LOLZ

    "[You'd have to be talkin' about one charming motherfuckin' pig."

    }}} Peyton gets dinged for being a poor bad-weather quarterback.

    Peyton should be getting dinged for having happy feet. Spurrier knew this all along, which is why Peyton never managed to beat UF even when Spurrier spotted him a 20 point lead. You want to beat Peyton, just invest in a few plays designed to get at him, to plant him on the ground. Then put those plays in early. Even if he burns you for a few yards, after the second or third time he'll get nervous anytime you're showing pressure, and his throwing will become erratic and his accuracy and timing will go to shit.

  14. obloodyhell:

    Manning. Happy Feet. Easy to beat.

  15. Brennan:

    QB comparisons will always be fraught with arguments regarding misconceptions and disagreements about the metrics. Passer rating? QBR? TD vs INT ratio? Red Zone efficiency? Running yards? Sacks and fumbles allowed? The list goes on.

    I think there's a very unmeasurable statistic of how well a QB improves the play of those around him, or, to flip the coin, marshals his assets to victory. I don't want to go too far back here, but guys like Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Otto Graham, Y. A. Tittle, Bobby Layne, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, and Warren Moon (among other Hall of Famers too numerous to mention, so I picked these) operated in a time and place that no longer exists in the NFL. Modern QB stats will eclipse these greats, because they operate in an environment that focuses on the pass. The success of those I mentioned pale in that comparison. That and the fact that most of us never saw them play.

    "Sir Francis" Tarkenton (as Howard Cosell liked to call him) was just as animated under center as Peyton is now. Moon threw a better deep ball. You wanna talk accuracy? For crying out loud, Chad Pennington, he of the noodle arm, has the highest career completion percentage record. One has to go through Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner before getting to Pey-Pey, followed by Tony Romo and Philip Rivers before getting to he the first HoFer on the list, Steve Young. Based on those names, my point is made that modern QBs operate in a different environment than the old greats, meaning that saying Manning is the best ever is comparing apples to oranges.

    Finally, I don't see how advertising revenue should be factored into a QB's greatness. Manning is a lock for the HoF, but best ever? It can't be determined. And that's as it should be.

  16. marque2:

    I guess we found out today why manning is rated so low. Considering how poor his post season performance is - it is a wonder he is rated so high. Tonights game was an embarrassement for Manning and the Broncos from the first snap.