I have always reflexively answered "Archie Manning" when asked who was the greatest football player I have ever seen, and would easily mark the calendar at October 4, 1969 for the greatest game an opponent has ever had against Alabama. But Johnny Manziel gave Archie his stiffest competition yesterday in what was surely the best performance a player has turned in against Alabama since then, and now I'm not so sure that November 10, 2012 might not be muscling that old date aside.
Here are the stats:
1969 - Alabama 33, Ole Miss 32 - Manning: 33-52 for 408 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 pick - 15 carries for 104 yards and 3 TDs
2011 - Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 - Manziel: 24-31 for 253 yards passing, 2 TDs, 0 picks - 18 carries for 92 yards
Obviously Archie's stats are a bit more impressive, and having watched both games, there's no way you can say that Manziel dominated Alabama yesterday the way Manning dominated Alabama in 1969. But here's the thing: the best adjective you could hope to apply to Alabama's defense in 1969 was mediocre, whereas this year's Alabama defense, despite having just given up 46 points (total) and over 400 yards (each) in back-to-back games, is surely one of the best defensive units in the nation. It's just a unit that has had the bad luck to run into atomic buzzsaws of quarterbacks two weeks in a row.
Manziel was amazing yesterday. Some of his escape performances were the stuff of legend, and certainly bring to mind the multiple pass-rushers pinballing off a twirling, dipsy-dooling Manning in 1969. A couple of his passes were slightly off, but the great majority of them were dead-perfect, including two deep daggers to Alabama's heart in the 4th-quarter TD drive that proved to be a game-winner.
In the last few years, Nick Saban's Alabama has eaten stud running quarterbacks for breakfast. Yeah, Cam Newton had a good 4th quarter and eked out a lucky win, but he was severely limited that day and if Alabama had not choked he would have gone home with an L and a mediocre stat line. Tim Tebow had one pretty good game against us and one pretty bad game. Denard Robinson was shut down. Tyrod Thomas was shut down. Jordan Jefferson was humiliated, and there are many more examples.
Looking at it that way, I'm tended to say that Manziel's performance stood out more from what other similar QBs have done against this team than Manning's performance stood out against what other QBs had done against that team. I have to stew this one over a bit, but my initial reaction is that Manziell's performances is at least comparable, and it's no longer a no-brainer to say Manning's performance was the greatest ever by an Alabama opponent.
I think Archie has some competition. What do y'all think?