I had hoped to get in touch with Rabbi Pinto for some counsel in this quandary, but apparently the Rabbi had been called away for some other so-called critical business meeting. Having struck out there, I thought I’d go to Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina to see if they could help me choose between the two. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on a winner either (the conversation got a little heated), and even after their friends got into the debate there was no resolution.
In the end, I was left to the challenge of choosing between the arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless on my own. And so I am awarding this verdict to – Babe Ruthless.
Aside from the fact that Manning apparently walks on water during his free time, Babe Ruthless brought up some very important points about Manning’s production that, no matter how Loyal Homer tried to spin it, were irrefutable.
As far as raw production is concerned between Manning and Unitas, I was skeptical of Babe Ruthless’ contention that Manning was better simply because he passed for more yards. Like Loyal Homer, I recognized the fact that Manning, whose entire career has been played in a league where the season spans 16 games, had greater opportunity to pass for more yards. As such, it is only natural that Manning should have greater raw production.
But even after taking into consideration the fact that Unitas played in fewer games each season than Manning, he was still outperformed by Manning on a very consistent basis.
Over his career Unitas averaged for only 190.7 passing yards per game, while Manning averages 261.1 yards per game. Based on those averages, if Unitas DID play in 16 games each season, his career best season still would have only been 3,862 yards… a performance that surpasses only two of Manning’s seasons (one of which was his rookie year).
In arguing on Unitas’ behalf, Loyal Homer points to the fact that Manning has won only one championship, while Unitas has won three. Once more, though, it is important to take into consideration how much the game has changed between the eras in which Unitas and Manning played.
Although Unitas won two additional championships, the context for how those championships were won must be taken into consideration. For Unitas’ championships in 1958 and 1959, they were the result of playing in only one post-season game in a league of only 12 teams.
Compare that reduced league size to the reality of competing for a championship in the NFL today. The league now has 32 teams, and the championship is awarded over a post-season that spans not one, but four weeks.
Consider this fact – in 17 seasons Unitas led his teams to only six post-season appearances while Manning led his teams to ten post-season appearances in a 13-year span. Within those ten post-season appearances, Manning won at least one game four different times. By 1958-1959 standards, where only one post-season game was played, that would equate to four different NFL championships.
That does not change the fact that Unitas was the quarterback of those two championship teams, but it does put into perspective just how great the accomplishment was.
Finally, consider this: before the conclusion of the 2009 Super Bowl, there was talk of Peyton Manning possibly becoming the greatest quarterback, not only in Colts’ history, but in the entire history of the NFL. Granted the Colts lost that Super Bowl game, but one game – no matter what the stage is – is hardly enough to change a person’s legacy from being potentially the greatest of all time to not even being considered the greatest to have ever played for his team. How can Manning be considered as the greatest quarterback of all time if he isn’t even the greatest quarterback to play for his own franchise?
Peyton Manning has had far greater challenges laid in front of him, and he has performed at a correspondingly better level than Johnny Unitas when responding to each of those challenges. He has been recognized as being the Most Valuable Player in the league more times than Unitas, and has produced at a better game-for-game rate.
While Unitas may technically have more championships to his name, Manning’s superior overall performance has earned him the title of the Greatest Colts Quarterback of All Time.