[Updated several times due to wishywashyness/oversights on QB rankings]
One underrated aspect of last night's Super Bowl? As Peter King noted today, it was well-officiated, and the officials took a largely hands-off approach, declining to blow their whistles on some ticky-tack fouls, including the clip on Peyton Manning during Tracy Porter's INT return for a TD.*
Porter's TD was one of two "Oh, s---!" moments -- the other being the onsides kick -- during yet another entertaining Super Bowl. When I was growing up, most Super Bowls were blowouts. From Super Bowl 15 in 1981, when the Oakland Raiders mauled my Philadelphia Eagles 27-10, through Super Bowl 29 in 1995 (49ers 49-Chargers 26), 11 out of the 15 championship games were lopsided. From Super Bowl 34 (Rams and Warner held off the Titans at the last second 23-16) through last night, 6 out of 11 games were exciting and up for grabs well into the fourth quarter.**
As for Manning, this is definitely a step back for him legacy-wise. He has reached a level of play overall that's unrivaled in my lifetime. But there's no getting around that 9-9 playoff record, which Bill Simmons pointed to today. For me, Manning has almost fallen back into a tie for second with Tom Brady among the QBs I've seen play -- from roughly 1980 onward -- behind Joe Montana. Fairly or not, playoff records matter, and Manning is 1 for 2 in Super Bowls, while Brady is 3 for 4. I think Manning's .500 playoff record is probably due in part to the fact that early on he elevated mediocre teams to playoff status and until several years ago never had a good defense on the other side of the ball.
Even with the playoff record and this loss, though, Manning is better than Brett Favre, and it's not that close. Which is why it's so mindboggling that Peter King in the fall put Favre at No. 5 overall in his ranking of the top QBs of all time, one spot ahead of Manning. John Elway was No. 7, Dan Marino was No. 8 and Brady was No. 10 on that list. (Montana was No. 3.)
Among QBs from 1980 onward, in a totally subjective ranking, I'd have it like this:
1) Joe Montana 2a) Peyton Manning 2b) Tom Brady 3a) John Elway 3b) Steve Young 3c) Brett Favre 4) Dan Marino 5) Troy Aikman 6) Kurt Warner
Brady's stats will look a lot better in 5 to 7 years. Even though he's benefitted from some luck, Adam Vinatieri and Bill Belichek, he's a winner and a leader.
Aikman doesn't get enough respect on these lists. He was 3 for 3 in Super Bowls. Brady was 3 for 4. What's the difference? Aikman is a victim to an extent of his own team's success: Those Cowboys teams were so good that they didn't need him to do that much; the Cowboys were a team that emphasized the run; and they blew out their opponents in their Super Bowl appearances,*** so he wasn't required to come through in the clutch.
I probably have Favre ranked too low, given his statistical accomplishments and the dazzling plays he's made over the years. But my top criterion is who would I want to have in a big game, as a fan or general manager? Who would I trust the most? And I just don't trust Favre -- no great QB has made more boneheaded throws than him. That throw to end the Saints-Vikings game was inexcusable, and it serves as a microcosm for his career. It was the third game-clinching INT he's tossed in the playoffs that I can remember. There was the one against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game in 2008 in his last game as a Packer, and there was the duck he threw up in overtime against the Eagles in the fourth-and-26 game in 2004.
In the plus column, I enjoyed the Favre commercial last night. That was good.
*Once Manning turned away from the oncoming blocker, Porter was gone.
**I'm not counting Pats-Eagles, where the game was basically over once the Pats went up 10.
***Two out of 3 anyway. The Steelers wasn't a blowout, but it wasn't that competitive in the second half either what with Neil O'Donnell's implosion.