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Peyton Manning: The greatest quarterback Arizona never had

Seventeen years ago, when people weren’t watching Leo’s face slowly turn blue as he sank into the freezing ocean (there was room on the raft, dang it) or headbanging to “Chumbawumba”, their eyes were glued to the beginning of one man’s NFL career.

He wore No. 18 in blue and white, spoke with a Southern drawl and slung a football like you wouldn’t believe — yet people could never have predicted during his 1998 rookie season, complete with more interceptions than touchdowns, that Peyton Manning would change the game of football.

In Arizona, 1998 was the year the team saw its first winning record in the desert at 9-7, thanks in part to Arizona State standout Jake Plummer (remember that mustache?).

Seventeen years later, 19 different quarterbacks have thrown touchdown passes in a Cardinals uniform under five different coaches. And while Arizona fans bore witness to turnover of quarterback, coach and stadium, they might’ve pined a bit for a team led by Manning (and even thought they’d get him at one point); the solid foundation of a constantly shifting league, the keeper of the passing game, the star of the NFL.

What if the Cardinals hadn’t gone through so many quarterbacks over the years? What if they’d only had one — the one?

Here’s how Manning’s numbers compare to the Cardinals’ over the last 17 years:

513-316

Since 1998, Manning has thrown 513 touchdown passes (the most in NFL history). Conversely, the Cardinals have had 19 quarterbacks combine for 316 touchdowns during that same time. (Note: Ryan Lindley threw 171 passes as a Cardinal QB, but never threw a touchdown.)

222-330

Manning has thrown 222 interceptions during his tenure — 28 of which came in his rookie season — while Arizona hit that mark long ago and has 322 interceptions between its combined quarterbacks since 1998.

67,098-61,595

Let’s put Manning’s 67,098 passing yards into perspective:

– Manning has thrown for 38 miles in his career (and he’s 38, which is a cool coincidence).

– Manning has thrown for about 670 football fields.

– Manning has thrown for more yards than dollars in the median household income of Americans in 2013 (be more like Peyton, America).

– Manning has thrown for 5,503 yards more than Arizona’s combined quarterbacks since 1998, and has done so despite taking an entire year off due to injury.

97.85-74.87

Manning’s career quarterback rating is 97.85. Blink, rub your eyes, read it again: 97.85. His highest? 121.1 in 2004. The Cardinals’ Kurt Warner’s best season came close to Manning’s average — Warner boasted a solid 96.9 high in 2008 and was consistently rated high prior to that, but his retirement after the 2009 season put the Cardinals on their quarterback roller-coaster once more.

The 20 Cardinals quarterbacks since 1998 have combined for a rating of 74.87.

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What might be the most impressive aspect of all these numbers is a fact many people forget: Manning missed an entire season due to a neck injury and surgery. It hasn’t slowed him down; in addition to all of his other accolades he received the NFL’s “Comeback Player of the Year” award in 2012.

It doesn’t take much debate to be convinced that Manning could very well be the greatest quarterback of all time — or at least of the modern NFL era. Cardinals fans will never see him in red and white, but maybe, just maybe another rookie who speaks like molasses and throws like a firing gun will come along.

Nah. There’ll never be another like Manning.