Who Will be at the BIG DANCE

courtesy of Yahoo Sports
For a quarterback, Super Bowl wins are an absolute necessity when it comes to legacy.
It's not necessarily fair or right, because so many factors outside a quarterback's control come into play. I wrote about 10 men who have shaped Tom Brady and Peyton Manning's legacy, and could have listed 100. But the fact is: Super Bowl wins do matter in the conversation about all-time rankings, and for some folks the amount of rings is the be-all, end-all when arguing a quarterback's career.
All four of the remaining playoff quarterbacks could gain a lot with a Super Bowl win this season. The stakes are enormous for each of them. But whose football legacy would change the most with a ring this season? Let's take a look:
You could rank Newton first and I wouldn't argue. We'd perceive any of these four quarterbacks a lot differently with a Super Bowl win. But Newton is the youngest of these four by far, and the argument is that he should have a chance to get that Super Bowl ring at some point down the road if he doesn't win one now.
However, no matter how good Newton is, that might not be the case. Everyone thought Dan Marino would make it back when he lost to Joe Montana in Super Bowl XIX at age 23. He never did. Everyone assumed Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder would end up with a ring or three when he lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, but that was four years ago and the Thunder are a clear third in their own conference now.
So it's not wise to assume Newton will win one at some point if he doesn't take advantage of the opportunity now. If he does win, he'll be putting together one of the most unique football resumes ever and be just 26 years old. Marcus Allen is the only player ever to win a Heisman Trophy, national championship, Super Bowl and NFL MVP (Allen got a Super Bowl MVP, too). Newton has the Heisman and national title and he'll get the MVP in a couple weeks. With a Super Bowl, we'd view him in a different light for the rest of time. Even his biggest critics would have to concede. Yeah, he has a lot on the line.
With a Super Bowl win this season, Brady would have five rings. Only Charles Haley can say that now. And in terms of football history, a quarterback with five rings (and Brady's unbelievable numbers through the years) jumps to the front of the line in the greatest quarterback ever discussion. And if he's considered the greatest quarterback ever, he has to be considered the greatest NFL player ever too. And if he's the greatest NFL player, he's in the mix for greatest athlete in American sports history.
So with a chance to basically lock up all of that, he's third? Tough category.
The difference between Brady and the top two is that the needle won't move that much even with another Super Bowl. There's a great argument right now that Brady is the best quarterback ever (I believe he is). A fifth Super Bowl would make Brady's argument stronger, but he'll get a lot of GOAT love either way. Brady could lose Sunday, retire, and he'll have a heck of a football legacy either way. But one more title would put him in a class by himself.
It will be a little weird if Manning wins a Super Bowl. He's clearly not the same guy who won five MVPs. But John Elway wasn't the same guy at the end of the 1997 season, he threw for 123 yards in Super Bowl XXXII, and nobody cared because he won. If you talk about Elway today, nobody will mention that Terrell Davis was the most valuable player on those two Broncos title teams in 1997 and 1998. So maybe it doesn't matter for Manning. All many people see with quarterbacks are rings, and that's it.
it would be very interesting to see how Manning's legacy changes if the Broncos win. There will always be a faction that rip him for not winning more, no matter what. But it's a lot harder to argue that a guy with two Super Bowl rings didn't win enough. Only 11 quarterbacks have multiple Super Bowl wins, and none of them have the records or personal awards Manning has.
Look how Elway's reputation changed in his final two seasons. Manning's legacy would change a lot if he can ride out to the sunset with another title, even if it's the Broncos defense carrying this team.
Let's say that the Cardinals lose Sunday and Palmer retires the next day. It won't happen like that, but let's imagine it does. What will we remember about Palmer's career?
Well, we'll recall he won a Heisman and was the first overall pick. He tore his knee in a playoff game with the Cincinnati Bengals and was never really the same guy after that, until a few good years with the Cardinals. With a loss on Sunday, he'd be a part of one playoff win in his 13 NFL seasons. Not a terrible career by any means, but he'd probably be remembered somewhere between Drew Bledsoe and Vinny Testaverde.
But with one Super Bowl? Everything changes.
With a Super Bowl, Palmer might even get some Hall of Fame buzz. He's 18th all time with 40,036 yards. He's 16th all time with 259 touchdowns. Those numbers won't be enough for him to be viewed as an all-time great, but pair them with a Super Bowl and people would look twice at his candidacy. Kurt Warner didn't play that long. He had more than 10 starts in a season just six times. But he's a Hall of Fame finalist because he won. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have had their legacies boosted tremendously by a pair of Super Bowl titles each. It's probably too late for Palmer to win two rings, or for him to go to three Super Bowls like Warner did, but it's undeniable that just getting into the Super Bowl ring club as a quarterback makes everything about your career look a lot better. Did you know Jim Plunkett had a 67.5 career rating with 164 touchdowns and 198 interceptions? Of course you didn't. But you definitely knew that he won two Super Bowl rings.
Palmer hasn't been a great quarterback, and his career hasn't been all that memorable from a historical perspective. But we'd think about Palmer a lot differently if the Cardinals win two more games this season.
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