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It's Peyton, Not Tom, Who Is NFL's Player of the Decade

Dec 31, 2009 – 12:30 PM
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Nancy Gay

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Peyton ManningThe past decade was a good one for a pair of prolific quarterbacks, each of whom can make a legitimate claim as the NFL's signature player of the last 10 years.

One has three Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, owns the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single season (50), is a five-time Pro Bowl selection, led his team to the league's first 16-0 regular season, compiled 76 victories in his first 100 starts -- the best winning percentage of any quarterback in that span -- and collected regular-season and postseason records at a pace rivaled only by Joe Montana.

The other has won three NFL MVP awards, averaged over 4,200 passing yards and 32 touchdowns per season the past 10 years, put together seven consecutive seasons with 12 or more victories, was selected to 10 Pro Bowl squads, and helped his team become just the third in NFL history to start a season 14-0. Oh yeah, and this superlative: He's started every game since the start of the 2000 season.

So which marquee quarterback should be considered the NFL's Player of the Decade?

The one not married to Gisele Bundchen.

How do you choose between Tom Brady, the spectacular New England Patriots starter and husband to Bundchen, and Peyton Manning, the steely, finely tuned, precision-seeking general of the Indianapolis Colts?

It's a close call -- both players are consummate leaders, unquestioned winners and superlative athletes. But this decision, while fairly set in stone in September, was cemented in Week 16 of the 2009 regular season.

Yes, the Colts lost 29-15 to the New York Jets, sending the AFC's playoff picture into turmoil and ruining Indianapolis' dreams of 16-0. But this wasn't on Manning. He wasn't in the game when the Jets scored 19 unanswered points from the third quarter until the finish, because coach Jim Caldwell -- at the behest of general manager Bill Polian, and with the approval of owner and CEO Jim Irsay -- yanked Manning and other starters from the field.

Manning was superb not for what he did, but for what he didn't do.

If you caught Manning's postgame news conference and watched his poise and professionalism in the immediate wake of what had to be one of the most heart-wrenching, gut-twisting outcomes of his sporting career, then you know why this player is the finest the NFL had to offer us -- in every possible aspect of the game -- over the past 10 seasons.

A quarterback who has engineered 43 fourth-quarter/overtime game-winning drives in his NFL career couldn't pull out this finish standing on the sideline. But the league's ultimate game manager was too classy, too dignified and too much of a leader to point fingers, complain or publicly question the decisions made by those who rank above him.

"This was our organizational philosophy that we stuck with," Manning explained afterward, doing his best to conceal the obvious disappointment. "We still had a chance to win the game. Until any player in here is the head coach, as a player you follow orders and you follow them with all your heart.

"That's what we've done as players. We follow orders."

When it's all said and done and his incredible NFL career eventually winds down, Manning may be acknowledged as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.

For now, we'll simply count to 10, and call him the NFL's Player of the Decade.

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