We are now 13 games into the final year of the decade and the debate over who should join the Dallas Cowboys of the ‘90s, San Francisco 49ers of the ‘80s, Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70s and Green Bay Packers of the ‘60s as the team of the decade remains unsettled. Prior to the start of this season, most people seemed to agree that the New England Patriots were the front runner, but that the Steelers could pull ahead if they were to win another Super Bowl.
Right behind them, serving only as a cautionary tale, was the Indianapolis Colts. Oh right. Peyton’s team. The best regular season team led by the best regular season quarterback in history only made the conversation because of what it should have done rather than what it actually did. One Super Bowl appearance. One Super Bowl victory. A franchise that would be remembered in the history books the same way the Ravens, Buccaneers and Giants would in the 2000s – as having one good team.
But now the Colts stand as not only the winningest team of this decade, but as the winningest team of any decade in NFL history. 114 wins in the 2000s. And their 22 consecutive regular season victories is also a record.
So is there any chance Manning could lead his Colts past the Pats and Steelers so they can be remembered as the most dominant team of the decade?
Yes. But he needs to be perfect.
That’s the only way. If Indy can withstand Mercury Morris’ attempts to hex them and a San Diego team who seems to always enter the playoffs looking great before choking and then a possibly unbeaten New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl, then you could make the argument that they are the most accomplished team of the 2000s.
It’s not just the team of the decade talk that matters here. In a lot of ways, Manning’s legacy is on the line. Another Super Bowl victory would be nice, but an undefeated season would push him to the very top of another elite list: the greatest quarterbacks of all time. 19-0 would be the unique accomplishment of his incredible career, something none of the other great ones could say they managed to pull off. Not Elway, not Montana, not Marino and most importantly, not his biggest rival, Tom Brady.
The media and fans tend to make a bigger deal of rivalries than they should. We’re long past the days of players refusing to talk to each other because they play for different teams. Free agency can be blamed for that. Now they all dine with each other, attend the other’s charity events and judging from those Monday Night Football introductions, most players pledge far more allegiance to their college program than any professional team they play for.
But on a strictly competitive level, Manning can’t like the fact that most people consider his friend Brady more accomplished than him. To make matters worse, most would say that Brady won three Super Bowls with less talent than Manning ever had and it would be difficult to argue otherwise. Until Randy Moss, Brady never won with an elite wide receiver, much less the two Manning has seemed to always have. It has to irk Manning to know that the Colts have wasted so much talent.
And unbeaten season could change that. He would finish the job Brady could not a few years ago, and if he were to do it against an unbeaten Saints team led by the league’s next great quarterback, Drew Brees, it would only add to the achievement. To add icing to the cake, there Colts and Pats could clash in the playoffs in a rematch of one of the great regular season games in history earlier this year.
Unfortunately, with that opportunity comes the chance to fail, which Manning and the Colts have done more often than not when it matters the most. The truth is they have been so good in the regular season that there should be no argument as to who the best team of the decade is. But up to this point, Brady has been more consistent and to be fair, Big Ben Roethlisberger has been more successful.
All the pressure is on Manning.