Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Unitas v. Manning

Somewhere out there in cyberspace, there's a man who believes that Peyton Manning is a greater quarterback than Johnny Unitas. I find that to be an astonishing claim. Peyton Manning is an amazing talent and a sure thing for enshrinement in Canton, but he's not Johnny Unitas.

Guys like Marino, Manning and Favre put up eye-popping numbers that dwarf those of the old timers. But when you look at the accomplishments of guys like Unitas, Y.A. Tittle and Otto Graham, you've got to bear in mind that football during their day was played with two-back, two-receiver sets, and without a lot of the limits on the defense that have made the passing game such a joke that an average player like Vinny Interceptaverde can rank sixth on the all-time list of passing yardage leaders.

The changes in the game aside, there's one gigantic difference between Manning and Unitas, and that's in their heads. Unitas was a team leader with unquestioned mental toughness. Manning is not. It would be inconceivable to anyone who played with Unitas that he would publicly point the finger at teammates like Manning did after his last playoff fiasco.

For example, in Tom Callahan's new biography of Unitas, he tells a story about how Unitas threw an interception because the receiver ran the wrong pattern. Unitas grabbed the guy on the bench, ripped him a new orifice, and told him he'd better learn the plays or he'd never see the ball again. After the game, a reporter asked him about the play, and Unitas said "It was my fault. I overthrew the ball." Taking care of business privately and taking the heat publicly was one of Johnny U's trademarks, and it's a big part of the reason why his old teammates still are very pugnacious when it comes to defending his legacy against challenges like this one.

I'll be honest with you -- as good as he is, Peyton wouldn't even be my top choice if I had to pick a QB solely from members of the Manning family. Frankly, I'd take his dad, Archie Manning, who is the first college QB I remember watching and is still the greatest I ever saw. I also think Archie is one of the most underrated NFL QBs of all time. Archie Manning's career stats aren't real impressive, but he spent almost his entire career with the godawful New Orleans Saints, and still managed to get selected to two Pro Bowls.

Surrounded by even halfway decent talent, I think Archie might have rewritten every record long before his whiny offspring had the chance to do so. For example, not only was Manning was selected NFC player of the year the only time he played for a .500 team, but in 1972, the guy even led the NFC in passing on a team that went 2-11-1! Archie Manning also got the crap beat out of him every weekend, without complaint. He didn't try to be a good teammate. He was one.


Vinny said...

Manning isn't even a pale imitation of the great Johnny U. I weep for today's kids who might have to say that Manning's the best they ever saw.

Kids, you've missed a lot.

conneeconehead said...

Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts played A LOT LESS games per year than the NFL schedule calls for today! Thus, it is grossly unfair to compare the statistics of Manning to Unitas.