Sunday Night Football, one of NBC's greatest inventions, hosted a magnificent event last night, namely Peyton Manning's new career as a Denver Bronco. It is debatable whether or not Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time. What is not debatable is that he is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
So, I asked my friends if, now that Manning is a Bronco, they were willing to concede that he is a better quarterback than Elway. Without hesitation I received negative responses from everyone I asked. One person, who shall remain anonymous and dear to me, said, "I will when he wins us three Super Bowl titles." The reference here, for those of you unfamiliar with football history, is to Elway's two back-to-back Super Bowl wins, with which he ended his career.
The problem is that no one player wins the Super Bowl by himself. He necessarily needs to be surrounded by the right players. So, it is unfair to judge any single player as being the best simply by his championship titles. Titles as a criterion for best ought better be applied to coaches and executives who pick and manage the players that work together for the championship titles and Super Bowl victories.
I will say this, it is difficult to judge any player as being the all-time greatest at any position, but the two positions that I would say it is most difficult to make a call are quarterback and receivers (this includes all receiving positions). The two positions are so interdependent on each other that if the greatest quarterback had a team of the lousiest receivers, he would either never complete perfectly thrown passes or be forced to run.
The position is one that requires exceptional passing to exceptional receivers and on occasion exceptional running. If you were to ask, "Who is the better QB at running?" John Elway would win hands-down. Everybody who loves football knows that Manning is one of the worst quarterbacks when it comes to running. He is a slow, big target. Elway, who was also big, came in 15 lbs. lighter and two inches shorter. So, pretty comparable in size, but a much better runner. In fact, in Elway's 16 years as quarterback for the Broncos, he racked up a total of 3,000+ yards just by running. In Manning's 14 years in the NFL, he has only racked up a mere 700+.
When it comes down to self-reliance we can say that Elway was better at making up for his teams defects by running down field. Manning, however, is not to be outdone. What he lacks in running speed he makes up for with both accuracy and passing yards. Manning's career pass completion percentage is 65%, whereas Elway's is only 56.9% Furthermore, that figure plays out to 55,081 career passing yards, whereas Elway's figure is a not so mere 51,475 yards, a difference of 3,606 yards. In Manning's fewer years he has racked up more yardage passing than Elway had passing and rushing combined. Going a bit further, Manning has over 100 more passing touchdowns than Elway, which again is more than Elway has passing and rushing combined.
At this point we can pause and reflect and come up with more arguments about how Elway could have been a better quarterback than Manning, such as leadership qualities, Super Bowl titles, etc... Manning, though, who has won more regular-season MVP awards than any other quarterback, still has a few years ahead of him if he stays healthy. Elway even conceded that Manning will go down "without a doubt" as the greatest quarterback of all-time if he can win two more Super Bowls. So, even by Elway's own standards, all he needs to do is win one Super Bowl for them in order to be at least as good as he is. In Elway's mind, for all we know, Manning might already be considered the superior QB.
With all the stats I have thrown around, I find it difficult to say that Elway is the better quarterback. I would only consider conceding that Manning is equal to Elway if the right qualifiers were in place. The facts seem to me to be stacked against Elway, but nevertheless, Bronco fans refuse to admit it.
All that being said, it seems to me that this situation is a great analogy for the sort of sentimentalism that keeps us from the truth. For many of us, we identify ourselves so strongly with certain groups, things, people, events, etc... that we find it difficult to concede the truth without feeling like we are betraying ourselves, and self-betrayal feels worse than death itself.
Our teams are our teams because we choose them as our teams. We generally have little or no real attachment to these teams. Many Los Angeles Rams fans were Rams fans until they were burned by the Rams move to St. Louis. Our choice to cheer for the home team is usually a great reason, but often times we ourselves move, and then the are no longer the home team. We put ourselves, at that point, at choosing to cheer for a new home team or to cheer for the team of our former home. What then would we do if our home team moves? Again, we often find that our favorite players are those who play for our team. What then do we do when they are traded to our rival team?
Here it is. Elway spent his career with the Broncos and finished his career as a Bronco with two Super Bowl wins. It would be hard to call any other quarterback better if he was not a Bronco. Moreover, it would be just as difficult to call another quarterback better if he spent the great majority of his career with another team. The problem is that we set up a lot of obstacles to the truth. These obstacles are to us our favorites because of we choose them to be our favorites. We think that it will ruin our integrity if we were to choose another favorite team or another favorite player.
So, what about politics? Sure, same thing. We find it difficult to admit the other side is right because we are afraid that we will betray ourselves and those with whom we associate ourselves. How about religion? Again, I imagine it is the same. We surround ourselves with others who see us as Catholic or Protestant or Buddhist or Atheist, and we cannot get ourselves to admit that we are wrong because we identify ourselves so strongly with the Catholics, et. al. that see us as their kind of people. To be otherwise would destroy our integrity, not to mention our friendships, social ties, self-image, etc... So, rather than turning toward truth, we avoid it. We say, "It's right for me." or "I know it's right because it feels right." We avoid encountering the truth. We come up with half-baked reasons why this is better than that, regardless of the facts.
My grandfather always said, "Don't take any wooden nickels," and that is exactly what we do. We take all sorts of wooden nickels and we refuse to trade them in for real ones. We tell ourselves that these wooden ones are better because they are ours, even if it means that we cannot spend them.
I will stick with Manning. He is the better quarterback. And the Catholic Church? She is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic bride of Christ, the only Church of Christ. The Pope, he is the best Church leader not because he is the most charming or my favorite. He simply has the right stats: 2,000 years of continuous succession from Christ to Peter to each of the popes. He is the Vicar of Christ. Democrats or Republicans? I will vote Republican or whoever is most pro-life until the Right to Life is granted to every person from conception to death. For, without that most fundamental of rights, we have no rights. If we do not recognize the right as proper to all, then it is illogical to think that it is proper to any. Feeding the hungry makes no sense unless we recognize the human dignity of each and every one. Certain things have priority, and we just have to admit it.