It’s the offseason and it’s boring for everyone, so why not spice things up with a good ole’ GOAT debate. While this is a pro-Colts website, I will try to outline all the facts in an objective way.
His Many Records
Manning holds the following major records:
- Most career passing yards (71,940)
- Most passing yards in a season (5,477)
- Most career passing touchdowns (539)
- Most touchdown passes in a season (55)
- Most NFL MVP awards (5)
- Most wins by a starting QB in a decade (2000s — 115)
- Most seasons with 12+ wins as a starter (11)
On top of the records listed above, Manning is the only quarterback in the history of the NFL to win a Super Bowl with two different teams and go to four different Super Bowls with four different coaches. Not only is this a record, but it’s his most impressive record in my opinion. When there’s a coaching change, there’s usually a shift in philosophy, especially when the strength of the coach changes (from defensive minded to offensive minded, for example). There’s a reason why Manning is the only quarterback to do this and it’s because it’s incredibly difficult to do. It demonstrates the extremely impressive cognitive ability of Manning as he was able to change systems, make it his own and still win. Winning in multiple systems shows great versatility, which only helps his argument as the GOAT.
Joe Montana could not get back to the promised land after the departure of Bill Walsh (despite having a super talented and similar team with Seifert). Brett Favre got close, but also couldn’t do it. Consistency is the key to success in the NFL and it’s why year after year we see many of the same team enter the playoffs.
Manning, on the other hand, didn’t have much consistency after 2008. From 2008 until his retirement in 2015, there was a lot of instability due to injuries, three coaching changes and a team change (as well as major personnel changes).
Peyton Manning went to the Super Bowl with four completely different coaches throughout his career. The first one was Tony Dungy, who essentially gave he and Tom Moore the keys to the car on offense as he was a defensive minded coach. After him, Jim Caldwell took charge and made some changes on the offense and a lot of new players came into the system that weren’t there or established with Dungy.
After Manning left Indianapolis, he joined forces with John Fox, a defensive minded coach with a history of underperforming. Manning led the number 1 offense that season in only his second season with the team. After Fox was fired, Gary Kubiak came on board in what was a big philosophical change. Kubiak, an offensive minded play-action based coach completely changed the offense and initially took some power away from Manning (but that didn’t last long). The offense completely changed, Manning readjusted and made it his own, inserting some of his old verbiage and mixing in some of his old Colts-era passing concepts. The pair worked well together and they won a Super Bowl.
Manning went far with 4 different coaches. No other player in the history of the game went to the Super Bowl with 4 different coaches. This demonstrates Manning’s ability to strive and succeed in any type of offense with any type of coach, something that cannot be said about Tom Brady or Joe Montana.
No quarterback in the history of the game went to the playoffs with four different coaches, let alone four Super Bowls.
You can argue that over the next 10-15 years, the major records (listed above) that Manning currently owns will be broken. Drew Brees is catching him in many categories and the game is still shifting to being more pass-oriented. Nevertheless, the two records he might always hold are winning the Super Bowl with two different coaches on two different teams and going to four “big games” with four different coaches on two different teams, the latter being the most impressive. There’s a reason why we’ve never seen anyone come close to breaking the latter, and only one (Kurt Warner) came close to tying the former.
His Competition (The Rings Debate)
By most measures, Manning’s two closest competitors in the GOAT debate are Joe Montana and Tom Brady. What both of these players have over Manning are rings. Montana has four and Brady has five. The rings debate has always been an interesting one. The quarterback is the most important position in football, but there’s 10 other teammates on the field at the same time, so how much of an impact does a quarterback truly have on the game? This question is the one that hurts or helps Brady and Montana the most.
If you look at the overall picture, which means looking at the entire team when evaluating rings, Montana was also aided by one of the greatest coaches in the NFL history (Bill Walsh) and many of his coordinators went on to become extremely successful NFL head coaches as Walsh has, by most measures, the most successful coaching tree ever. He was also aided by many Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball. Montana’s defenses had future Hall of Famers like Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley and Fred Dean as well as Jerry Rice on his offense.
You’ll see that Brady’s teams were aided by having top scoring defenses and one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL, who is a guaranteed Hall of Famer. However, Brady’s teams weren’t filled with as many Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers as Montana.
Manning only had one coach who went to the Hall of Fame and if it weren’t for his stint in Tampa Bay, Tony Dungy wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. In my opinion, I don’t believe that Tony Dungy is a Hall of Fame coach, but that is only my opinion and it’s not very relevant to this argument. Manning never had a top 10 defense in terms of talent or in terms of scoring defense. Throughout his years with the Colts, the only defensive players that have a chance at the Hall of Fame are Dwight Freeney (very likely) and Robert Mathis (50/50 chance). When he went to his first Super Bowl with the Broncos, it was his offense that led the way with his defense suffering many key injuries. His second appearance in the Super Bowl with the Broncos was a different story as he had (arguably) the top defense in the NFL with many stars.
Even with the phenomenal Broncos defense that Manning had the last few years of his career, Manning never had the same defensive talent that Brady or Montana had (over the course of their careers) nor did he have the same coaching that they received. Manning won everywhere he went and only missed the playoffs twice in his career.
If I had to rank the top three quarterbacks of all time, I would go with:
1 - Peyton Manning
2 - Tom Brady
3 - Joe Montana
It’s a never ending debate, so we’ll never have a conclusive winner, but what articles like these provide is a little more clarity on the situation.