Peyton Manning’s concern: Another title, not his legacy

Despite all they’ve accomplished during their high school, college and pro careers, the second and third sons of Archie and Olivia Manning always seem to have something else to prove.

Apparently three Super Bowl titles and a matching number of title-game MVP awards on football’s grandest stage don’t count for much.

There’s always another fire to put out for Peyton and Eli Manning, and this season the honor of trying to make the naysayers look bad falls on the shoulders of Peyton — even though they often do it without gloating.

One season after being bounced from the playoffs, when he again was subjected to talk that he couldn’t win the big game, Peyton Manning will add another chapter Sunday night to an incredible career that includes an amazing comeback from four delicate neck surgeries.

Manning, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a championship in 2006, will become only the third quarterback to start a Super Bowl for two teams when the Denver Broncos go against the Seattle Seahawks in MetLife Stadium.

Even after Manning put together the most productive season for a quarterback in league history, resulting in single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55), one of the top storylines this week was about trying to secure his legacy as one of the game’s all-time great signal-callers.

“I think Peyton has already created his own legacy,” Eli Manning said before the media horde descended on New York. “He’s played at a very high level for a long period of time, and he’s overcome injuries and set numerous records and been on a lot of playoff teams. … (He’s) playing in his third Super Bowl.

“I don’t think that’s something he’s worried about. There will always be arguments about who’s the greatest. I think if you’re in that argument, if you’re one of the names thrown around in there, I think you’ve already created a pretty good legacy.”

When asked about cementing that legacy during media day earlier this week, Peyton Manning smiled and jokingly tried to downplay the talk.

“I’ve been asked about my legacy since I was 25 years old, which I’m not sure you can have a legacy when you’re 25 years old, or even 37,” he said as reporters chuckled. “I thought you had to be 70 to have a legacy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the word even means. I’m coming down the homestretch of my career, but it’s not over yet. It’s still playing out.”

Now 37, Manning was clearly more focused this week on winning a third Super Bowl title for the Broncos franchise.

He said the second chapter of a 16-year career, which will eventually lead him to the Hall of Fame, has been an exciting one despite last year’s gut-wrenching playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, when everyone thought the Broncos were headed to the Super Bowl.

Former Broncos quarterback John Elway, now a team executive, also scoffed at the legacy talk.

“When people say that, they’re looking for something,” he said. “He had such a tremendous year — I mean, what else are you going to talk about Peyton Manning that’s negative other than, ‘OK, we’ve got to go to his legacy.’

“So I don’t think this game, one way or the other, affects his legacy. He’s going to be one of the all-time greats no matter what.”

His career numbers reflect that. With 64,964 passing yards and 491 touchdown passes, Manning is just 6,875 yards and 18 TDs away from breaking the records, both held by Brett Favre.

Former Louisiana-Lafayette receiver Brandon Stokley, a teammate of Manning’s with the Colts (2003-06) and Broncos (2012), said the doubts are unfounded.

“It’s just the nature of sports, especially the nature of the NFL,” he said. “They’ll find anything to bring you down. To Peyton and Eli’s credit, they just play football.

“Peyton shouldn’t worry about what’s said while he’s still playing. Let’s just wait until he’s finished. Let this thing play out, and then people can say what they want about it.”

Former Saints and Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has known Manning for about 20 years, said he sees the same fire he has always seen.

“I know some coaches on their staff, and they say Peyton’s desire and work ethic is maniacal,” Delhomme said. “He’s still the same; he hasn’t slowed down.”

That’s why, Stokley said, he shouldn’t be doubted.

“I’d never bet against him,” he said. “I love him. He’s the ultimate competitor, so I’d never bet against that guy.”