Every player who plays on a winning Super Bowl team reaps the rewards that come with being a champion – satisfaction, recognition, cash and a ring on their finger to display the championship they won.
For one player on the Super Bowl winner, though, there is an added reward – a coronation.
Being the quarterback of a Super Bowl champion is a crown like no other in sports. It can define their entire career, and elevate their status in the history of football for generations to come.
The word "legacy" was endlessly debated leading up to Sunday's game between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. What is Peyton Manning's legacy? Where is his place in history among the greatest quarterbacks in the National Football League?
Sunday’s result won’t help. Seattle ripped Manning and the Broncos 43-8. Manning is now a five-time MVP with only one Super Bowl ring. Seattle’s Russell Wilson, meanwhile, has the same number of rings after only two seasons.
Manning set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions against the Seahawks, but the man who threw a record 55 touchdowns in the regular season threw just one Sunday, falling to 1-2 in the Big Game during his career.
The reality is the ring matters above everything else. Without the jewelry, the accomplishment of a great quarterback can diminish over the passing of time. And for the quarterback who may have been forgotten otherwise, a Super Bowl ring will live on.
Trent Dilfer had a forgettable 13-year NFL career, with 113 touchdown passes and 129 interceptions, with a quarterback rating of 70.2. But he won a Super Bowl as quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, and now his known as "Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer."
It's so much part of the quarterback's identity it becomes part of their name – "Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer."
The only honor that trumps it is "Hall of Famer." And the path for a quarterback to the Hall of Fame is often paved by winning a Super Bowl.
Joe Namath was a generation icon of the 1960s, the brash, flamboyant, talented New York Jets quarterback who wore white shoes and did pantyhose commercials. But his place in history was cemented by one game – Super Bowl III. Namath just didn't win a Super Bowl. He won "the" Super Bowl, the one where the renegade American Football League upset the mighty NFL champion Baltimore Colts in a 16-7 win.
Namath made the memorable guarantee before the game that they would beat the Colts, and the Jets delivered on that guarantee. But what if the Jets had lost? Namath was one of the great passers of all time, but injuries diminished his statistics – a 13-year career in which he threw 173 touchdown passes and 220 interceptions.
If Joe Namath doesn't win Super Bowl III, he is a colorful character from a past era. He is not in the Hall of Fame.
As it was, Namath was very ordinary in the game, completing 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and no touchdown passes. The Jets beat the Colts – 17 point favorites – with their defense and a running attack led by Matt Snell, who carried the ball 30 times, gaining 121 yards.
But it was Namath who was named the game's Most Valuable Player. It was Namath who was crowned that Jan. 12, 1969 afternoon at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
The rings trump the numbers. Dan Marino and Joe Montana are proof of that.
Montana is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, in that debate along with Johnny Unitas, and two of today's stars quarterbacks, Manning and New England's Tom Brady, among others.
Dan Marino is in that conversation as well – now. Will he be there 20 or 30 years from now? Maybe not.
Why? No Super Bowl championships on his resume.
Marino's career numbers dwarf Montana's. Over 17 seasons, Marino threw 420 touchdown passes with 252 interceptions. When he retired in 1999, he held nearly every single NFL passing record.
Montana threw 273 touchdown passes over 15 seasons, with 139 interceptions. He had an outstanding career. But what puts him over the top in the greatest-of-all-time argument are the four Super Bowl rings he won with the San Francisco 49ers.
Without the Super Bowl rings, Montana is still likely a Hall of Fame quarterback. But the greatest of all time?
If Dan Marino had four Super Bowl rings, the argument would be who is second greatest quarterback in NFL history. Marino would be the unequivocal king, with little room for debate.
The numbers fade. Already Brett Favre and Manning have surpassed Marino in career passing yards and touchdown passes, and Brady and Drew Brees will likely do so as well in the future. Football fans who have never seen Marino play will see impressive numbers. But his legacy?
Fran Tarkenton played 18 NFL seasons, and retired in 1978 with nearly every single NFL passing record. He lost three Super Bowls, though.
When's the last time you heard Fran Tarkenton's name mentioned on the short list of the greatest quarterbacks of all time?
Legacy is not a measurement. It's not a metric. It is a ring – a Super Bowl ring.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of "The Sports Fix,"noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com
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