East Rutherford, N.J. — Peyton Manning kept pitching — mostly itsy-bitsy passes — and what we saw in Super Bowl XLVIII was the unraveling of a legend.
Manning was the centerpiece of this Super Bowl. No mistake about that after a record passing season in 2013. The propaganda machine worked crazily all week.
The only debate in this New York/New Jersey Super Bowl was whether Manning was the greatest quarterback, the greatest passer in the history of professional football. A likeable guy who would stamp out his career legacy on Sunday with America and much of the rest of the world as witnesses.
It was a bunch of malarkey.
Seahawks 43, Broncos 8.
The magazines raved about his wing-flapping style, his kicking of his leg as the signal to snap the ball. TV described his dancing and his bellowing “Omaha” before the snap.
All this stuff is vintage Peyton Manning — showbiz.
Russell Wilson, a second-year pro quarterback, outshined Manning, a veteran of 16 NFL seasons. Manning completed a bunch of passes. But he tossed two interceptions. And both were worth touchdowns for the Seahawks in the second quarter. He later turned the ball over on a fumble.
“To finish this way is very disappointing,” Manning told the media in the aftermath.
Instead of the best quarterback in history, I would call Peyton Manning the most overrated athlete in the annals of American professional sports. There — stealing words from Vince Lombardi after the Packers’ conquest of the Chiefs in Super Bowl I — I said it.
Manning now has been the losing quarterback in two of his three Super Bowls — he had a split with the Colts.
The remaining debate now is whether Manning will try to squeeze the last juice out of the lemon. He was noncommittal during the Super Bowl prelude about whether he’d play another season — win or lose — at age 38.
He hinted afterward that he hoped to play again by alluding to how a playoff loss a year ago to Baltimore motivated the Broncos to win the AFC championship in the 2013 season.
“How we used the loss in the playoffs last year to win this year, maybe we could use this game in this offseason,” Manning said. “And then next season as well.”
Many years ago, Bud Grant, the iceman coach of the Vikings, said “quarterbacks can’t be God almighty.” And Bud should know. He lost four Super Bowls, three with Francis Tarkenton.
And it was proved again in a Super Bowl that defense wins.
'Great' only on paper
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks entered this Super Bowl with the No. 1 defense in the NFL. The Broncos came in with the best offense in pro football — most of it attributed to Peyton Manning.
The Seahawks for sure rattled Manning — and when he plays rattled, his teammates play that way, too.
John Fox, the doughty Denver coach who came back to win a conference championship after a heart attack, might fight me on that comment. He defended Manning, denied that his veteran quarterback lost his composure.
“No,” Fox said to the media praising the Seattle defense. “I thought Peyton did a good job.
“The pressure did have something to do with it. Their pass defense is outstanding.”
Manning’s stats might look great. On paper. He set a record for the most passes thrown by any quarterback in any of the previous 47 Super Bowls — 49. And another record for the most passes caught — 34.
But he didn’t throw one of his famed touchdown passes until the final play of the third quarter. By then the Seahawks were kicking the stuffing out of the Broncos, 36-0. And it was the only time the Broncos came close to scoring.
Horrible victims again
Manning completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. But most of them were for 4, 6, 8 yards. The longest was for only 23 yards.
And it’s impossible for an offense to purr into the end zone with those tiny shots.
The Broncos self-destruction started on the very first play. Manning might be 6 foot, 5 inches tall, but the center snap went at least two feet over his head and bounced and rolled into the end zone. The Broncos were fortunate the Seahawks got only a safety.
But the rout had begun.
And it was pretty merciless.
Peyton’s body language told a vivid story on his second interception. It was a duck, after he was hit by Cliff Avril — remember that guy, Detroit? Malcolm Smith grabbed the fluttering ball and ran it 69 yards to a touchdown.
Manning stood watching, his hands on his hips. And the rest of the Broncos seemed to give up the chase.
As a football game, there was nothing to it. Lackluster.
I would rate it was some place around 45 or 46 in my collection of 48 Super Bowls. Sadly, the Broncos were the victims in most of the worst.
There’s an old cliché — “stats are for losers.”
Jerry Green is one of two newspaper writers to cover every Super Bowl. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger is the other.