After 18 years, the greatest number 18 of all time officially called it a career. The often admired and venerated quarterback finally ended his battle with Father Time. His final year was filled with media scrutiny, some controversy, and most importantly concluded with his second Super Bowl victory.
Football is a team sport, which makes the continued dominance of one Peyton Manning all the more impressive. For years, the mass media has hassled the “Sheriff” for his postseason failures, and many even condescendingly anointed him the “greatest regular season quarterback of all time.” Manning’s postseason career ended with a winning record, 14-13. and Even more importantly, it ended with a 3-2 edge over Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the golden boy.
As the former number one overall draft pick hangs up his cleats, he leaves behind a generation that he inspired and countless passing records. Manning holds the record for career passing yards, career passing touchdowns, most passing yards and touchdowns in a single season and most wins.
The five-time MVP gave an 18-minute press conference to cap his career, but truly closing Manning’s chapter in the NFL books is impossible. Records aside, he is arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever toss a football.
The legend that is Manning is encompassed by his breakup with his first love, the Indianapolis Colts. After missing the entire 2011 season, in which the Colts lost fourteen games, he was released by the team, which drafted him in 1998. The team was ready to cast aside the man who had brought them into relevance, like a broken toy, for a new, young phenom named Andrew Luck.
Joe Montana and Brett Favre went through the same emotional, involuntary, exiles towards the tail end of their careers. The latter gunslinger agonized over whether or not to retire only to feel slighted when the team decided to move on from him in favor of Aaron Rodgers. Montana moved on after a season similar to Manning’s and proceeded to have two decent years in Kansas City. The path Manning embarked upon, with the destination he had in mind, was improbable and monumental.
The Sheriff signed with the Denver Broncos, largely because of the presence of John Elway, an all-time great quarterback in his own right, as an executive. In his first season back from his neck surgeries, ones which would’ve made most others end their career, Manning was an MVP candidate and won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. The following year, he had the greatest statistical season of any quarterback in NFL history. Many wondered if he would retire if his team won Super Bowl XLVIII, but Denver came nowhere near close. The Broncos were utterly demolished by the Seattle Seahawks’ great defense.
Denver, under the leadership of Elway, came to the realization that a finesse team would be unable to score its way to a trophy. In the offseason they slowly began to transition into a team with a more defensive focus and also placed more of an emphasis on the running game.
The following season, Manning had another great year that ended after one postseason game. This one hurt more, mentally and physically. Manning lost the game to his successor, Luck. He was also injured, the extent of which was kept under wraps until after the team’s early postseason exit. The Sheriff was slinging the ball with a torn quad. This injury set an aged Manning back even further, especially since arm strength was never his forte.
2015 was by far Manning’s worst season, statistically. The typically prolific passer racked up only 9 touchdowns while throwing 17 interceptions in his 10 regular season games. For the first time in his career he was unable to throw double digit touchdowns or throw for over 3,000 yards. This being said, even while he was unable to play like the Manning of old, he was still able to maneuver his team to victories. The Broncos had a stout defense, a solid running game and a football genius under center: They had found their formula for success.
After missing time due to another injury, he returned midgame and righted the ship for the team. In true storybook fashion, he mustered up just enough energy for one more playoff run. Manning proceeded to find a way to win three playoff games and ride off into the sunset.
Brady, whose life would have been much easier if the Manning boys took up another sport, said this to Peter King about never getting to face Manning again: “That part really sucks. That part will always suck.” One could say that your true worth can be found in the reflective words of your rivals. If this is the case, then No. 18 has earned every bit of the reverence he received over the past 18 years.
Manning made the careers of some peers, ended the careers of some opposing players and coaches and inspired a generation. His mental abilities always outshone his physical attributes, but that only adds to the myth that he will become. Manning knew the responsibilities of every player on the field and seemed to know the opposing defense’s strategy better than they did.
Is Manning the greatest of all time? In 18 words: He changed the game, touched millions, was a consummate professional, and there will never be another Peyton Manning. Thank you Peyton, it was an honor.