Peyton Manning needs to even a score with John Elway.
If you believe the ultimate measure of an NFL quarterback is leading your team to a championship, the score is: Elway 2, Manning 1.
As the new quarterback of the Broncos, it's Super Bowl or bust for Manning. Before he had a chance to put his signature on a five-year, $96 million contract with Denver, I asked Manning if he's on a personal mission to win a second Lombardi Trophy.
"Well, yeah. Two ... three or four would be great. I'd like to win as many as we can. That's the goal: to win," Manning said Tuesday, when he joined the Broncos after 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. "There's always that debate every year: If you don't, is it a complete failure?"
There are no guarantees for success, stressed Elway, the front-office executive who made the bold move of dumping popular Tim Tebow for a 35-year-old veteran with four MVP awards and four neck surgeries on his resume.
But make no mistake. Manning welcomes the challenge and the pressure of returning Denver to the top of the NFL heap for the first time since January 1999, when the Broncos beat Atlanta to win Super Bowl XXXIII during Elway's final game as player.
Manning won the Super Bowl with the Colts, when they defeated Chicago in February 2007. Three years later, Manning felt the sting of falling one victory short of a championship, when New Orleans upset Indy.
"I know that I like being in the arena. I like knocking on the door every year," Manning said. "The closer you get, the harder it is sometimes when it doesn't happen. I know what it feels like to win one, like John (Elway) has, and how it feels to lose one. It's kind of like Ebby Calvin 'Nuke" LaLoosh said in Bull Durham: 'I love winning ...It's like, you know, better than losing.' "
As Manning tried to get comfortable with a new orange No. 18 jersey during his formal introduction to the city, Elway revealed a big ambition: "My goal is to make Peyton Manning the best quarterback that's ever played the game."
The words made Manning shake his head in disbelief. Ever see one of the top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history blush?
"Nobody loves quarterbacks or has an appreciation for the guys who played before me more than I do. So Elway, (Dan) Marino, these guys, I'm not comfortable being in those conversations while I'm playing," said Manning, whose father, Archie, was a legend at the University of Mississippi and went on to play quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
"When those guys came into the league, my Dad just retired. My Dad was always my favorite player. I always like Marino, the way he competed. But nobody loved watching Elway more than I did."
Elway threw for 51,475 yards and 300 touchdowns for Denver. Manning's first TD pass for the Broncos will be the 400th of his career. He gained 54,828 yards on 7,210 pass attempts with the Colts.
At the risk of tugging on Superman's cape, I asked Elway: Should Manning already be considered a better QB than old No. 7 ever was?
"That's up to you guys," Elway responded with a chuckle. "I know one thing, he's got a heckuva lot more yards than I ever did."
Elway is the greatest player who ever wore a Broncos uniform.
Manning is the next great hope for bringing the glory days back to Denver.
Mark Kiszla: 303-954-1053 or firstname.lastname@example.org