Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Peyton Manning a/k/a Pey da Man

You can put an eye out arguing who’s the best Colts QB ever, Peyton Manning or Johnny Unitas, and you’ll get nowhere because the argument winds up at the Ground Zero of whether it’s better to be the guy who thinks up the stuff or the guy who took what the other guy thought up and made it better. Henry Ford versus Enzo Ferrari. Leo Fender versus Paul Reed Smith. Thomas Watson versus Steve Jobs. Woody Guthrie versus Bob Dylan. Johnny U. redefined down-the-field passing, and he was a winner, but Pey da Man took the U’s foundation and built the Great Pyramid of Cheops over the top. The U and the Man have played almost the same number of games, and ended the 2009 season with the same number of career wins, but Manning has thrown for 11,000 more yards with 80 fewer interceptions. Don't start with the yeah-but-those-were-different-times-and-Johnny-U.-called-his-own-plays-so-how-about-that-punk shtick, because Manning changes 80 percent of the play calls at the line in the most annoyingly obvious manner possible, and if that's not Ray Noble writing "Cherokee" it's Charlie Parker coming up with a million riffs off of the changes to "Cherokee."

It’s really no clearer when you head down to the intangibles. The U has weird hair. Manning has none to speak of. Neither one is exactly hunkalicious; do you prefer bowlers or paperboys? Unitas has an annoying son; Manning isn’t waiting around for the next generation, and then there’s Eli. Both did their best work for HOF coaches. Both had HOFers to throw to. Both wear high-tops. Both appeared on cereal boxes. Both have the mobility of a Doric column.

So who’s better again? I asked this question to Jim McLauchlin, the co-author of Jim and Kit’s Big Book of Football Lineups, and he replied, “The torch-pass of QBs pretty much goes Baugh-Graham-Unitas-Tarkenton-Marino-Favre-Manning, to my mind, so both are definitely in the mix. I'd call it a coin flip at this point, and either side a winner. That said, and with Marvin Harrison's gun to my head: Manning."

I suppose. But Marvin Harrison’s gun would have to be pretty damn big.

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