Peyton' Legacy: I was asked during a radio appearance this morning what I thought the win did for Peyton Manning's place in football history. It's an excellent point of discussion and I feel it just solidified him as one of the top five or six QB's ever to play in the NFL. Now he can stand with Brady, Montana, Unitas and a few others with multiple championships. Unlike Marino, he was able to put the "can't win the big one" commentary behind him. Manning's career postseason record of 14 - 13 isn't particularly glossy, but it does include four trips to the Super Bowl with four different coaches and two different teams, a pretty stunning accomplishment. It also means he led his team to fifteen playoff appearances, no small feat in a league where just over a third of the teams qualify for postseason play. I would have to think that Manning will stroll into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, secure with a lasting legacy.
More Manning: Is The Ride Over? I'm going to have to predict that it is. His behavior after the game, referring to drinking some beers and having a good time is a stark contrast to his normal demeanor. He has little else to prove to himself, the fans and the media. There's almost no way he will be able to return to the Broncos, whose only motivation in having Manning in the first place was to do just what they did this season. They were built for the short term and accomplished their collective goal. It was a great one, but every career comes to an end. It would be nice to have the final Peyton Manning memory one of him standing on stage, smiling and holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Can the Panthers Make a Return Trip? It's going to be difficult. The stars aligned for Carolina, with a favorable schedule and a weak division that will certainly be tougher next season. The Seahawks are probably not going away, the Rams might be more focused with a new home in L.A., the Redskins played well at the end of the season, the Packers look poised to make another run if Aaron Rodgers gets healthy, the Cowboys might be a force if they can get 14 or 15 starts out of Tony Romo and the Cardinals will contend again if they can get solid quarterback play from an aging Carson Palmer or his replacement. Obviously, the Panthers could make another run, but history is against them. It's just very difficult to do it in back-to-back seasons, making the Buffalo Bills' appearance in four consecutive Super Bowls quite an accomplishment, even if they weren't able to pull out a win.
Commercials, Halftime Show, Cam Newton's Press Conference: I'm an avid football fan and commentator, so anything outside of the action on the field isn't that interesting to me. I certainly understand the appeal to many casual fans or observers who tune in for the side shows, but I don't tend to pay a lot of attention to it. That being said, I thought the Beyonce - Bruno Mars choreography was cool, there were a few entertaining commercials and in the end, Cam Newton could have handled himself better in the aftermath of a devastating loss. It's not necessarily fair that the losing team's players have to face the media so soon after the game, but that's the world we live in and if you're going accept the money, fame and glory, then you need to be prepared to handle the unpleasantness as well. I'm sure Cam Newton will learn from the experience.
Preview of Next Year: As I alluded to earlier, I think the NFC is going to be crowded at the top next season. In the AFC, Oakland is a potential team on the rise, as are the Jets and Texans. The mainstays will also stick around, with Indianapolis probably returning to form behind Andrew Luck, New England doing what New England does, Denver contending again if that defense stays healthy and Pittsburgh making a case with their multi-faceted offensive power.
The Hard Part: We now face that long stretch of almost seven months with no meaningful NFL or college football games. It was a great season, with a lot of story lines on which to comment and two deserving champions in Denver and Alabama. For me, I'm not going anywhere. I'll be on WPFL radio and the Radio Bookshelf with my Beyond the Commentary segment every Friday morning at 8:40 am EST. In addition, I begin a Thursday night broadcast from 8:30 - 10:30 pm EST on MRN in February.