Gridiron: Colts' Manning within touching distance of joining elite band
Frank Reich almost agrees that he has the easiest job in the NFL. "In some respects, yes," he said. "In others I have the hardest."
Reich is the quarterbacks coach for the Indianapolis Colts, which means he is responsible for making Peyton Manning a better player. But when an athlete is so close to the finished article as Manning, there cannot be much to do other than sit back and admire.
The 33-year-old quarterback is expected to lead his team to a second Super Bowl title in four seasons against the New Orleans Saints tomorrow. He has already collected a record four NFL MVP awards, and is widely seen as the best player of the last decade.
A superlative passer, Manning allies ability to vision, in-game intelligence and a fierce will to win. Victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI three years ago ended accusations of choking and proved that he could win the big game. He is unbeaten this season in games he has finished, the Colts' two defeats coming only after he had been withdrawn, with a play-off berth already secured. He has started every game since his debut in 1998, when he was the top pick in the college draft.
The quarterback gene is in his blood. His younger brother Eli threw the touchdown pass for the New York Giants that beat the New England Patriots two years ago.
His father Archie was a great player with the University of Mississippi who had the bad fortune to be drafted by a poor NFL team -- the Saints -- but it did not diminish his legacy in the South or his influence on his son.
"He has been my role model, always been the guy that I have gone to," Peyton Manning said.
Manning will become only the 11th quarterback to win two Super Bowls if the game goes as expected. It looked as if it might not happen when the Colts took on the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game a fortnight ago and trailed by 11 points in the second quarter. Then Manning, against the best pass defence in the NFL, took over, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
He had a mid-season spell when he was less than magnificent, but still found a way to win.
"The quarterback position is so demanding and there are so many factors going into it that it's amazing we could still win all those games when everything was not working perfectly," said Reich. "But his approach did not change.
"Sometimes he asks hard questions of you as a coach, but he's harder on himself than anyone else could be. You see not only how much talent he has but also how hard he works. You see what leadership he brings to the organisation. He raises the bar for everyone. You have to bring your 'A' game to every practice."
In contrast to his father, Manning plays for a very good team that he makes great, and a place in the Hall of Fame seems assured. But where does he rate among the best?
"The level of excellence over a sustained period of time: winning 12 games a year for what is it, seven years?" Reich said. "That's crazy. No one has ever done it before. I don't see how he's not going to go down as the greatest ever." (© The Times, London)
New Orleans v Indianapolis, Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 1, BBC1, 11.0pm