Seven is a special number. In the Bible, it is used over seven hundred times. It also the movie in which acting icon Brad Pitt puts in his greatest acting performance. In sports, it has been the number that has been worn by greats such as Mickey Mantle, David Beckham, and Craig Biggio. And in Denver, it was the number won by the Broncos’ only Super Bowl winning quarterback, John Elway (although, former Viking great Bubby Brister technically backed-up Elway in both of his Super Bowl winning years, thus making him another Broncos Super Bowl winning quarterback along with Wolverine legend Brian Griese and something called Jeff Lewis).
Nowadays, John Elway finds himself sitting in the upper tier of the Broncos organization as the executive vice president of football operations. He played a vital role in making what was possibly the least-risky football move since former Notre Dame Head Coach Dan Devine put Samwise Gamgee Rudy in at defensive end for the final play of a blowout against Georgia Tech, when he dumped “quarterback” Tim Tebow in order to make room for Peyton Manning. The similarities between the two quarterbacks split there, however, as John Elway was more of a “winner” while Peyton Manning is the better overall quarterback.
Last night, another connection finally formed between the two of them as Demaryius Thomas crossed the goal line after picking up over seventy yards after s catch from Manning late in the fourth quarter in Denver’s 49-27 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens. The pass was Manning’s seventh touchdown pass of the game to complete the best game of thirty-seven year old’s already-storied career. Not only did the number of touchdown passes match the number that John Elway wore for sixteen years, but it also tied a record that hadn’t been touched in almost forty-three years.
On September 28, 1969, Viking quarterback Joe Kapp was making his first start of the season in Week 2 against another Baltimore team, the Colts (which also happens to be Manning’s former team. Conspiracy theorists have at it). Like Manning, he was playing the team that kicked him out of the playoffs a year earlier en route to the Super Bowl. By the time the game was over, Kapp had bested Johnny Unitas, throwing seven touchdowns. It was the Vikings first victory in the season that brought them their only NFL Championship, one that no one remembers because of the fact that the Vikings could not defeat the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV (The Vikings eventually got revenge on the Chiefs in February of 2014).
The back judge in Kapp’s memorable game remained unimpressed as he had done the same thing as Eagles quarterback Adrian Burk just fifteen years earlier. Burk did it against a weak Washington Redskins defense (they gave up 36 points a game in a run-heavy, 1954 NFL; the New Orleans Saints gave up only 28.4 points per game last year). It was the highlight of an otherwise non-descript Eagles season and the only year in which Burk through more touchdowns than interceptions. It was also his first of two Pro Bowls.
Another quarterback that made the Pro Bowl in 1954 was Y.A. Tittle. Tittle had his chance to throw for seven touchdowns in a game in 1962, also against the Washington Redskins, who by this time were only giving up 26.9 points per game. Tittle’s New York Giants would go on to a 12-2 record that year with Tittle coming close to the NFL single-season touchdown record at the time with thirty-three touchdowns. The Giants lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship to give Vince Lombardi his second title.
Tittle was considered the greatest quarterback to play for a few years. The first quarterback to hold that title was former Bear Sid Luckman. When two-thousand yards was as improbable for a quarterback as it is now for a running back, Luckman threw for over two-thousand in two seasons, coming close to three-thousand in 1947. He threw twenty-eight touchdowns in 202 pass attempts in 1943, a 13.9 touchdown percentage that is a record to this day. He threw the first four-hundred yard game that year, while adding seven of those twenty-eight touchdowns against Tittle’s future team, the New York Giants. That year, the Bears won the NFL Championship, putting up forty-one points against the league’s best defensive team, the Washington Redskins.
For one year, 1949, George Blanda backed up Sid Luckman. It took over a decade for Blanda to match his predecessor’s accomplishment, but he did it as a member of the AFL’s Houston Oilers in 1961. He threw his seven against the New York Titans (No, the New York Titans did not become the Tennessee Titans. That was the Houston Oilers. The New York Titans became a lesser known team that SportsCenter has never talked about and has never had a quarterback controversy or a head coach with a foot fetish). The Houston Oilers won their second AFL Championship in as many years in 1961 behind Blanda’s 36 touchdowns. Blanda went on to throw more interceptions and miss more field goals than any other player until former Falcon great Brett Favre threw his 278th interception in 2007. Blanda had a career of ridiculous numbers as he played for 26 years (Chew on this. When he started playing, World War II had just ended. When he retired, the Vietnam War had been over for two years).
That’s the class that Peyton Manning is in. He is transcending above the game, like Sid Luckman and Y.A. Tittle did. Think of the names at quarterback between Joe Kapp and Peyton Manning. Fran Tarkenton. Terry Bradshaw. Roger Staubach. Dan Fouts. Joey Harrington. Dan Marino. Joe Montana. Rex Grossman. Steve Young. Troy Aikman. Spergon Wynn. And even John Elway. None of the these Hall of Famers, not even #7 could hit lucky number seven until Peyton accomplished the feat last night.