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"Great. First I get booted from the playoffs, and now I've got the runs."

“Great. First I get booted from the playoffs, and now I’ve got the runs.”

This is it, folks.

Last night, in Mile High Stadium, the Denver Broncos saw their chance at Super Bowl glory sail right into the hands of Corey Graham in overtime.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world saw the death of Peyton Manning’s legacy.

It pains me to say that last part, because I’ve been a fan of Peyton’s ever since he entered the league. I’ve long believed, in spite of his well-documented struggles in the playoffs, that he was the best quarterback in the National Football League–possibly ever. In fact, Tom and I argued that point as recently as 2 weeks ago. (He thinks it’s Bart Starr, but that’s an argument for another day.)

Peyton Manning is the prototypical definition of the perfect quarterback, the field general. He calls his plays from the freaking line of scrimmage, for Christ’s sake. He picks apart defenses like you and I pick our teeth. You can take the janitor or equipment manager from any team in the National Football League, and Peyton Manning could throw a perfect spiral to his chest, in a place where only he could get to it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to crunch time–playoff time, the moment in each season when men can become immortal, time and time again Peyton has choked worse than George Bush at a Pretzel Gourmet.

Pictured: Peyton Manning, hiding from fans after another early playoff exit.

He doesn’t seem to be the same player–the confident, well oiled machine that dominates the field every regular-season. Instead, he seems nervous, like a player who can’t believe he’s there. He throws bad passes. He coughs up the ball. He seems confused by what the defense is doing.

In short, the playoffs turn Peyton Manning into Jay Cutler.

Yes, to Peyton’s credit, he got a Super Bowl ring – in a fluke game, played in the rain against a toothless Chicago offense. Let’s face it: outscoring Rex Grossman is no impossible feat. In his other appearance at the big game, he was outplayed by Sean Payton and Drew Brees, who were more than prepared for everything Peyton could possibly throw at them, and had more than a few tricks up their own sleeves.

Peyton Manning has no tricks. He plays the game straight up, so if you know what he’s going to do, you can easily contain, but not stop him. Worst of all, Peyton Manning’s command of the field means he has no one to blame but himself. No one can point to bad coaching when Peyton Manning screws up–Peyton Manning is the coach.

Some will argue that this is not Manning’s last shot at immortality. He will, after all, play football for as long as he can, and every year you will count his team to dominate the regular season. The problem with that is we don’t know how much football Manning has left. Multiple neck surgeries and age have left Manning’s career hanging by a thread–1 bad hit, and Peyton Manning’s career could be over. And in football, a bad hit is almost a certainty.

"Don't worry about it, kid. I was old as hell when I got my last ring."

“Don’t worry about it, kid. I was old as hell when I got my last ring.”

Before tonight, Peyton Manning’s name was floated in the rarefied air with names like Steve Young, John Unitas, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Tom Brady–and, yes, (sigh) Bart Starr.

After tonight, we won’t even be able to say whether he’s better than his little brother.

A man’s legacy died tonight. May it rest in peace.

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