By Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News –
Be careful, 49ers. Peyton Manning has been a great quarterback. It makes perfect sense to work him out and see if, after Manning’s neck had its transmission rebuilt or whatever, he can still be effective. But committing millions and millions of dollars to a quarterback who will turn 36 years old later this month is still risky.
Be careful, 49ers fans. Getting excited about Manning’s possible 49er employment is understandable. But personally, I’m iffy on the prospect. An older Brett Favre, great as he had been, never managed to lead the New York Jets or Minnesota Vikings to a Super Bowl. An older Joe Montana, fabulous as he had been, never took the Kansas City Chiefs there, either. An older Johnny Unitas, legendary as he was, could not get the San Diego Chargers to the big game. An older Joe Namath, fantastic as he was, didn’t make the Los Angeles Rams into a champion.
Be careful. Need I continue? There’s only one such example I can recall that semi-succeeded. An older Kurt Wartner did quarterback the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl . . . where they lost after Warner fumbled the ball away late in the game. I guess the 49ers would take that at this point. Still, given the performance of veteran quarterbacks past 35 years old, the odds are Manning wouldn’t even get them that far.
Be careful. I’m not saying Alex Smith is the 49ers’ next Super Bowl winning quarterback. The 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh must be wondering about that, too, if Harbaugh was giving Manning a tryout. But they might still have other options. A team daring enough to enter the Manning sweepstakes is daring enough to try another move to land another kind of quarterback upgrade. A voice I trust says that at one point in the past two years, the 49ers were close to acquiring Ben Roethlisberger from the Steelers. If you’ve forgotten, he was the quarterback who beat Warner in the Super Bowl.
Be careful. Even if Manning does have the 49ers as one of his finalists in terms of a possible destination _ and even if they are the team closest to winning a Super Bowl _ he isn’t guaranteed to choose them. We all know how close the Manning family is. They’re the Osmonds of football, supportive of each other and generally image-conscious. Would Peyton really want to set up a situation where he could face brother Eli of the New York Giants with a Super Bowl trip on the line? Or would Manning rather go to an AFC team instead?
Be careful. That’s all I am saying. The Jets and Vikings and Chiefs and Chargers and Rams _ and their fans _ were excited, too, after signing a quarterbacking legend. And the excitement always dimmed by the final play of the season. If this really does happen, it will be a fascinating experiment and make the 49ers even more compelling and interesting as they move toward their 2014 stadium opening.
Manning deserves respect and he surely would give it his best shot, the best his body will allow him to give. But nothing is certain about this, in so many ways.