Only this time, he’s back with a different team wearing the same jersey No. 18. Only this time, he’s donning Broncos orange and blue and not Colts white and blue. If he wins Sunday’s Super Bowl, Manning, properly speaking, will be the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. But with the pressure on Manning to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl win, No. 18 has to fight through the elements if he wants to solidify his status as the all-time great.
There is, believe it or not, a chance it might snow this weekend in the Meadowlands at Metlife Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLVIII. If the forecast calls for a potential snowstorm, with temperatures expected to dip below freezing by nightfall, Manning will likely have a long night in one of the coldest cities in America. There is, believe it or not, a chance he won’t be as effective, especially if he’s forced to play in sub-zero weather.
Manning, 37, is back in the big game after having multiple neck surgeries and missing a full season. The Broncos return to America’s biggest game for the first time since Denver won back-to-back titles in 1998 and ’99. If Manning can beat a ferocious Seattle team at little brother Eli’s house, he will become the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. Manning is one of the biggest names of American sports. He is one of the greatest passers of our generation. He is arguably the greatest quarterback ever.
But this year’s event is going to be so freezing, that he’ll be shivering and chattering his teeth. The weather is a concern for the veteran quarterback because, in a sense, it’s a factor for Sunday’s game. And although Manning’s numbers in the five games where the temperature was lower than 40 degrees, while playing in Denver: 136 of 208, 1430 yards, 14 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 35 points per game, he has a 4-7 career record and 36.4 winning percentage when the temperature is 32 degrees or colder at kickoff.
Being skeptical, instead of being naive, isn’t to speak negatively about a future Hall of Famer. It’s facing reality. In warmer games, have you, he has a 69.3 percent (174-77), primarily because he played most of his career in a dome with the Colts. The truth is Manning has an 8-11 career record playing outdoors in cold conditions, with 30 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. In contrast, he’s 85-35 outdoors when it is 40 degrees or higher, with more touchdown passes and fewer picks.
The Broncos visited the Patriots back in November and lost 34-31 on the road in overtime. We saw Manning teeter on the edge of disappointment, passing for a season-low 150 yards and averaging only 4.2 yards-per-pass in cold, blustery conditions. The temptation today is to believe that he will have a hard time. With numbers this frightful in lower temperatures, essentially, he can be atrocious. Then again, I could be wrong.
On the bright side of things, he threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns in the Broncos’ 51-28 victory in early December against the Titans when the temperature was 18 degrees. So we’ve spent this week wondering if he can handle the weather, ignoring the fact that Denver is not exactly the warmest of climates. We don’t know, but he can benefit from the cold weather. You never know.
Counting on Manning to carry Denver is understandable. But he can’t freeze up on a cold late afternoon. To tell the truth, after coming to a new team and the Mile High City, he has won 28 of 35 games, setting every passing record all season long. It is well documented that he will earn his unprecedented fifth MVP award. The hard work paid off for him, spending an entire month with his offensive coordinator, Adam Gase to watch and dissect every one of his plays from previous seasons.
With meticulous preparations and obsessive studying, he made an immediate impact in Denver and has only improved with age. He is constantly choosing a play once he reads the defense, systematically exposing all the weaknesses of an opposing team’s defense and picking apart stout defenses with his arm strength and accuracy. He is customarily in a hurry, snapping the ball quicker and faster, with his unmatchable repertoire of audibles, hand signals and snap counts.
Those who are curious to know how he’ll fare in cold weather, who have their doubts and wonder whether the stiffness in his surgically-repaired neck is more problematic, he can adjust to a cold-weather game with hard work and confidence. The cold conditions could affect Manning’s ability to move his arm and neck fully, possibly making it difficult for him to throw downfield passes to disrupt the defense. He wears a glove on his throwing hand to get better grip on the ball after feeling the difference since his surgery.
The frigid weather won’t favor Manning’s Broncos and, in the biggest game on the biggest stage, he will have to play through it. In the bigger picture, he’s unfazed by the weather and realizes that there is a game to be played. It’s supposed to be lower than 32 degrees by the second half, and folks wonder whether he’d be the greatest quarterback of all time or the greatest choke artist of all time come Sunday.
But as we know, there is no greater x-factor in the Broncos no-huddle, hurry-up offense than Peyton Freaking Manning. With a victory five days from now, he will have improved to 12-11 in playoff games. Manning, in his 16th season, sure loves to shout the word “Omaha” and make all the calls at the line of scrimmage.
He has won the second-most games of any quarterback in NFL history. He has been to the postseason 13 times in his luminous career. He has won division titles, appeared in the big game three times, once a winner and once a loser, and built an empire in two different cities. He has the most game-winning drives, and holds and shares 55 regular-season and postseason records.
In sports, the greatest players of all time endure the elements often in great measure, and a true champion, by virtue, overcomes the obstacles standing in their way. The reality is that Manning can’t beat the cold, not to mention that he’ll be forced to get rid of the ball as Seattle’s top-ranked pass defense could disrupt Manning. Everyone knows he’s bothered by frigid temperatures and easily becomes frustrated, distraught and forlorn when he sometimes has trouble making plays.
Manning is a brilliant football mind, but Seattle’s defensive unit still presents problems and can make life miserable for him. It’s great that he’s efficient working the spread-it-out, no-huddle offense, piling up more passing yards than any quarterback in NFL history and threw a record 55 touchdown passes this season. If he doesn’t win, he won’t hurt his legacy. Win or lose, he’s still one of the greatest to ever play the game. If he does win, he’ll be No. 1 in my book, but weathering the storm is key.
To be clear, he’s not usually superior when it comes time for the postseason, but here’s his chance to finally pull through. As things stand, Manning tops every starting quarterback in a library of record books. He has never been known to have the strongest arm, or the mobility. In the end, he will have to get it done on the big stage in the big city where the weather will be treacherous.
If he can play through it, then we can crown Manning the great one.