Here we go again. Another quarterback has to win the Super Bowl to ensure his "legacy." This time it's Peyton Manning. Once upon a time, it was Steve Young, Dan Marino and John Elway.

It's a tired storyline, and one that isn't fair. A missed field goal, a dropped pass, a poor supporting cast are beyond a quarterback's control, but ultimately, the outcome falls to him.

Tony Dungy, the Super Bowl-bound Indianapolis Colts coach, recently joined the crowd when he said that quarterbacks are judged on whether they win a Super Bowl.

Elway's career was always dogged by the lack of a ring despite his consistent high level of play during the regular season (but remarkably poor Super Bowl play). He ended the matter by winning Super Bowls in his last two seasons, his fourth and fifth attempts.

Marino is always remembered as much for failing to win a Super Bowl as he is for setting all-time passing records. Ditto for Jim Kelly (0 for 4) and Fran Tarkenton (0 for 3).

Young carried the so-called "monkey" on his back until he finally won a Super Bowl in 1995.

There are only so many Super Bowl titles to go around, but the great ones are expected to find a way. The irony: Trent Dilfer and Doug Williams have rings, Marino doesn't.

Now it's Manning who has to win a title to "prove" himself. He has a won-loss record of 94-53 and taken the Colts to the playoffs five straight seasons. He produced the greatest season ever by a passer in 2004 when he threw for a record 49 touchdowns (to only 10 interceptions) and a record 121 pass efficiency rating. He has collected more completions, yards and touchdowns in his first nine years than any other player in history. He has started 128 consecutive games, second most in NFL history.

But it's not enough. He has to win a Super Bowl.

If you want to see how unfair it is, consider the situation in reverse. Consider Joe Namath.

This will sound like football blasphemy, but Namath was a mediocre quarterback, and yet he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and considered one of the great quarterbacks of all time.

Why? Because of one game: Super Bowl III.

Namath might be the most overrated player of all time (although Mike Vick is closing the gap quickly).

In 13 seasons, Namath threw 173 touchdown passes — and 220 interceptions. In 11 of his 13 seasons, he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes.

He completed only half of his passes (50.1 percent, to be precise).

Namath threw for a lot of yards during his first few years in the league, but not efficiently.

If the true measure of a quarterback is his won-loss record, then Namath falls short again. Namath's teams won one league championship and one world championship. His record as a starting quarterback: 77 wins, 108 losses, 3 ties.

Does this sound like one of the 100 greatest football players in NFL history? The Sporting News thought so. In 1999, the magazine listed Namath 96th.

Aside from his charisma and his famous, jet-set lifestyle, Namath's legacy rests largely on one game. He not only won the 1969 Super Bowl, he predicted the Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the days leading up to the game. He guaranteed it, and that certainly contributed to the inordinate attention he garnered from that game.

Super Bowl III is considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history, with the Jets of the inferior American Football League beating the Colts of the established National Football League. It would be like the Amsterdam Admirals beating the New England Patriots.

The Jets won 16-7 and cemented Namath's legend, and he didn't even play particularly well (he completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and 0 touchdowns (it is largely forgotten that Matt Snell rushed for 121 yards, the defense intercepted three passes, and Jim Turner kicked three field goals).

In one afternoon, Namath secured his place in sports history, but does his career really surpass Manning's, with or without a Super Bowl win?


E-mail: drob@desnews.com