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Peyton Manning gets the ultimate compliment

I know this is a University of Tennessee sports blog, and he hasn't played here in a dozen years.  I also know I am a Tennessee Titans fan, which means more often than not the Colts are enemies instead of friends.

But Peyton Manning, age 33, SEC and Super Bowl Champion, has entered the rarest of airs in the sports universe:  you'd better watch this guy every chance you get.  He won't be around forever, and eventually he will get old.  But right now, he's not human.  I'm not sure he's ever been.  And when you have ties to this guy the way we're privileged to, you hold on to them as tight as you can.  Even if you're a Titans fan.

Manning's lone imperfection - "can't win the big one!" - seems like it died an awfully long time ago now.  It was always a notion that I hated here at Tennessee; just because our defense couldn't stop Florida didn't mean Manning didn't win big games here.  Being the instrument of change in the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry and winning the '97 SEC Championship Game to get to the Bowl Alliance National Championship Game certainly qualify.

But as Bob Costas pointed out in the postgame, the Colts - once losers of seven of eight against mighty New England - have now won five of the last six.  Manning hasn't just stopped the bleeding in this rivalry, he pulled the knife out and stabbed Belichick in the heart with it.  And tonight wasn't the first time.

The 2007 AFC Championship Game - which for my money is the best NFL game of the decade - changed everything for Peyton.  And once you saw the Colts come back from a three possession hole on that night, there's been no reason to turn off one of their games early ever since.

So tonight, in the matchup that's the best quality guarantee in all of professional sports, when New England gets up 24-7 in the first half?  Eh.  Or when the Patriots go up 34-21 with 4:12 to play?  With Manning on the field, the game is never out of reach.

And tonight, Bill Belichick - love him or hate him, the most successful coach of this era - a guy who once tortured Manning on cold January afternoons in Foxboro...tonight Bill Belichick paid Peyton Manning the ultimate compliment.

Facing 4th and 2 at their own 28 with 2:08 to play, leading by six points...Belichick decided to go for it.

He'd just seen Manning rip his vaunted defense - with apologies to Jerod Mayo, who's awesome - in less than two minutes to pull the Colts within one score.  And so the most successful coach of his era decides that Manning is going to beat him either way, and his best and most calculated move is to go for it.

If this is any other coach in the NFL, this move is laughed off.  This was Belichick, the guy who will use any means necessary with no thought of legality to win  This was Manning's nemesis.  And this was the ultimate compliment.

And Belichick was right:  Manning was going to beat him either way.

The Patriots fail to convert, and Manning goes to work.  The Colts get close, and Manning does what Tom Brady didn't:  make the one throw he had to make, the one that wins the game.

Just before kickoff, NBC ran a poll of the 20 living Hall of Fame quarterbacks on who they'd rather have, Manning or Brady.  Four ducked the question, Joe Montana split his vote.  Of the remaining 15 Hall of Fame quarterbacks, 13 picked Peyton.

I can look you in the eye with a straight face and tell you I believe he could end his career as the greatest quarterback in the history of football.

Peyton Manning is special.  We've always known that.  On our podcast last week with Red Cup Rebellion, we spoke of the Mannings in similar language that Tim Tebow currently receives.  Those outside the circle may tire of the constant praise, but that doesn't mean it's unearned.  But those with ties to Peyton Manning know we've got something truly unique here.  And we don't want to see it end.

Watch him.  Every chance you get.  Sooner or later we'll be tearing down the next generation of QBs because they're not him.  But right now, he's at the absolute top of his game.  Enjoy this.

I will now return to caring about the Titans and talking about the Vols.