One of the big questions entering Super Bowl XLIV was where Peyton Manning ranked among the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
Certainly had he led the Indianapolis Colts to victory on Sunday night, his place as a multiple Super Bowl winner and pro football legend would have been cemented.
But after Sunday night’s 31-17 Super Bowl victory by the New Orleans Saints, the new question should be: Where does Drew Brees rank among the greatest quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL?
Brees might have played second fiddle to Manning in terms of the regular-season MVP voting and attention leading up to the game, but on Sunday night, it was Manning who blinked first, as Tracy Porter’s pick-six interception sealed the victory, and Brees wound up holding the trophy that really counted.
After a Super Bowl record-tying 32 completions in 39 attempts for 288 yards, Brees proved he deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre and the recently retired Kurt Warner.
This much at least could be hard to argue. Brees might be the single greatest free-agent signing in the history of the league. Consider his numbers just this year; he completed 363 of 514 attempts for 4,388 yards with 34 touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions.
Those numbers aren’t just eye-popping for fantasy leaguers, but those are the stats that propelled the once-hapless Saints to their first championship ever. Brees completed an amazing 70.6 percent of his passes this season with a passer rating of 109.6 and averaged 8.54 yards per attempt.
Brees’ story is almost as remarkable as the Saints’ own trials and tribulations. He had been the starter in San Diego, but the Chargers elected to let him walk away as a free agent after the 2005 season, turning the reins over to first-round pick Philip Rivers instead. The Chargers have only playoff collapses to show for it.
Brees was available to any team for the taking, with the one caveat that an injured throwing shoulder needed surgery and time to heal. Some teams didn’t want to take the risk. For the record, the Tennessee Titans, in the middle of rebuilding at the time, never seriously entertained the thought of Brees as their quarterback.
But the Saints were already at rock bottom. They were trying to re-establish their roots in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which left them displaced in San Antonio for a season. So they took the chance on Brees. Just as he took the chance on ransacked New Orleans, which was trying to rebuild a city, and new coach Sean Payton, who was charged with rebuilding the team.
On Sunday night, it all paid off for Brees, Payton, the Saints and the city of New Orleans.
Despite the loss and another postseason failure for Manning, there is no doubt he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer once his career is over.
But on Sunday night, given his poise under pressure and his overall performance since joining the Saints, perhaps Brees is beginning to establish a resume worthy of Canton as well.