Two seconds. No, literally, I attempted to watch Super Bowl 50 pregame coverage for two seconds Sunday morning before I saw NFL Network’s talking point.

Staring straight at me from the bottom of the screen, in hi-definition, daring me to heave a blunt object and ruin our party before the chili started to simmer.

“Does a win (Sunday night) make Peyton Manning the greatest quarterback of all time?”

No, no, a thousand times, no. That isn’t my answer to the question, either. Maybe he is and probably he isn’t. And who really cares? Subjective arguments about who’s better than whom at a team game are the dumbest, most utterly American idea since the halftime show.

It was a silly question, anyway, and in the aftermath of the Denver Broncos’ decidedly old-school 24-10 triumph over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, it’s even more absurd.

Sunday night was a splendid reminder of two things: Football is the ultimate team game, and despite decades of the NFL’s often laughable attempts to tilt the table in the other direction, it’s still most delicious when dominated by defense.

This was total domination by Von Miller — the easiest choice for MVP in my lifetime — and the Denver defense. Manning was privileged to play the role of Trent Dilfer, Jim McMahon and Bob Griese. He was along for the ride. Hand off, nurse the lead, don’t do anything stupid and you get to put your fingerprints on another Lombardi Trophy.

That’s not to disparage Manning one scintilla. He deserved this. After years of slinging leather on behalf of an Indianapolis Colts outfit that couldn’t stop a nosebleed, heaven knows he deserved it.

Like Brady, the counterpart who will be connected to him like Statler to Waldorf, peanut butter to jelly and Budweiser to Clydesdales until each of them have assumed room temperature, Manning received a smidgen too much credit when things went well in his career and an off-the-charts surplus of blame when they didn’t.

That’s the job description of a pro quarterback, great, fair or middlin’. Such is the blessing and curse, the joy and pain, of having the NFL at our beck and call to distract us from the important crap of life. Everything gets overrated, overstated, and descends into the immediate danger of overstaying its welcome.

We are overcome with short- and long-term memory loss when it comes to this stuff, and context, by consequence, is a lost art. You and I both know that if the Panthers had prevailed, somebody on TV would have wondered aloud Monday morning if Newton had the “potential” to be “the best ever” and if the Panthers have the “makings” of a “dynasty.”

I put quotes around so many of those words because it’s more journalistically acceptable than using symbols like the ones that indicate a cartoon character is cursing. Newton is a league MVP. He’s a (conference) champion. He’s a dynamic leader. He’s one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks ever to play the position and someone who could fundamentally change the way that position is played in the next generation.

He simply got beaten by the better defense, in a top-five performance from the half-century of this amazing game.

The truth, as it almost always is in these all-or-nothing, buy-or-sell, yes-or-no discussions, is somewhere in the middle. Newton didn’t choke. Nor did Manning in that head-scratching parade of playoff defeats he experienced through the years.

You’re only as good as the pieces around you and the parts glaring back at you through the facemasks attached to the opposite-colored helmets. It’s no different for Newton, for Manning, for Brady, than it was for Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas or Otto Graham before them.

Dynasties aren’t supposed to happen in pro football, and careers aren’t supposed to last more than four or five years. Coaches get hired away. Players sign elsewhere. Opponents adapt. Books are ghost-written and divide locker rooms with spooky ease. Commercial and movie deals come calling. Complacency sets in.

Those elements, and the enormous physical toll, make it harder in my estimation to stay on top in football than in any of its rival professional sports. It is the reason we should appreciate and venerate Manning and any other quarterback with the chops to regale us with sustained excellence. Notice that word isn’t always automatically equated with multiple championships, either.

Peyton Manning completed 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards on Sunday. He didn’t complete a touchdown pass.

And he was great. All-time great, because he led a sensational team. No apologies, qualifiers or mindless debates necessary.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.


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