Peyton Manning's long anticipated decision to hang up his cleats and retire from professional football has now come. Over the weekend, Manning announced that he planed to retire, and made it official with a press conference at Broncos headquarters in Denver on Monday afternoon.
There is not much left to say about Manning's career that hasn't already been said. Come the year 2021, Manning will be enshrined in football's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Put the recent controversies to the side, because Manning lived up to and exceeded expectations.
When he was drafted Number 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL draft, a lot of people debated whether the Colts should take Manning or Ryan Leaf. As we all know the two quarterbacks have been intertwined in a ying-yang on quarterback development. Their draft was the turning point in NFL history, providing a benchmark for GMs to follow, and follow with caution. Manning came across as a model citizen, broke countless records, won championships, MVPs and more. Leaf, on the other hand was a total bust. Leaf is best remembered for berating a reporter in the Chargers locker room, for getting arrested, and dealing with substance abuse problems.
There is no question, and we knew this even back then, that the Colts made the right decision. The Colts didn't win much in Peyton's first year in the NFL, winning only three games, but it didn't really matter. Manning showed enough of what he capable of, and anyone following the NFL back then knew that the Colts were about developing a team for the the future.
And what a future it was. The Colts went to the playoffs every year but two years under Manning from 1999-2011. For a period of 12 seasons, Manning's Colts averaged 11.5 wins per season, won 13 or more games four times, won eight division titles (1 in the AFC East, 7 in the AFC South); went to three AFC Championships, winning two of them, and of course won Super Bowl XLI in 2006.
While in Indianapolis, Manning re-set the bar for which NFL quarterbacks will be judged forever with his up-tempo style of play, his knowledge of the game, and his ability to dissect defenses on the flick of a wrist. Whether it was changing the formation at the line of scrimmage, as he did often while a Colt, or yelling 'Omaha' like he did in Denver, you knew number 18 was in full control of the game.
He threw for 4,000 yards or more 15 times in his NFL career, and twice threw more than 40 touchdowns in a season (49 in 2004 and 55 in 2013) enjoying being the head of some of the greatest offenses in the NFL. With the Colts, Manning made Hall of Famers into Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. In Denver, he made DeMarious Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker into household names. Not many quarterbacks can do that. Manning did that and more.
When we delve deeper in the Manning legacy a lot of things stand out. For one, his rivalry with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots is a major headline that will be talked about for generations. 17 times the two future Hall of Famers met, with Brady getting the upper hand most of the time. Yet, after Denver's 20-18 win the AFC Championship game this past January, Manning finished 3-2 against Brady in the playoffs. Sure, Manning had some ugly losses to the Patriots over the years, especially in Indianapolis, but he was also apart of some memorable wins.
In the 2006 AFC title game, Manning helped bring the Colts back from a 21-3 deficit to beat the Patriots 38-34 and advance to the Super Bowl. Then in a regular season game in 2009, Patriots coach Bill Belichick infamously went for it on fourth and two deep in Patriots territory, and watched his team botch the down. Belichick's reasoning for going for it on fourth rather than punting? He didn't want Manning to get the ball back. He did and the Colts won.
Yet, while we will remember all the big wins Manning had in his career, before this past season's ride to a Super Bowl 50 title in Denver, Manning's postseason career is one that always came into question. He was 11-13 before the Broncos Super Bowl run, with horrendous losses to not only the Patriots, but losses to the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Saints, and Seahawks. A lot of those losses weren't his fault (see the Steelers divisional win over Indy in 2005). Others were a total implosion on Manning's part, like the 41-0 beatdown to the Jets in 2002, and Super Bowl XLIV against New Orleans. And let us not forget the botched snap against Seattle in the Super Bowl two years ago.
Yes, the playoffs weren't always kind to Peyton Manning. A guy who was the most prolific passer in the history of the game, had trouble coming through in the big games. I remember before the Colts run in 2006 that led to Manning's first Super Bowl title, he was often compared, and unfairly so, to Dan Marino -- another outstanding quarterback who couldn't win. Ironically, we stand here today and Manning has two rings on his finger. There is no questioning his greatness now.
It is also ironic that he won two Super Bowls without playing his best. His performance against the Bears in the Super Bowl wasn't at all scintillating and his effort against Carolina this year was less so. Peyton just knew how to win at all costs.
And let us not forget how Manning got to this point in time where he was standing before friends and family in Denver announcing that today would be his last as a NFL quarterback. Exactly four years ago, Manning signed a contract with the Broncos, ending a 14-year ride in Indianapolis. Manning was coming off of major neck surgery, and, Indianapolis, knowing they had the number 1 pick and Andrew Luck in their back pocket, decided to let Manning go. It was not an easy decision, and one that I am sure still rankles Colts fan some, but for the betterment of both parties Manning left town.
He toured the Dolphins, the Titans, the 49ers, and even took a call from the Jets. Yet, it was Manning's relating to John Elway that stood out most to the quarterback. Elway knew what Manning was going through at this stage. He too was an aging Pro Bowl quarterback who wanted to find a way to win one last time. Elway and Manning came to an agreement, and Manning changed royal blue and white for orange and navy. In 2012, Manning looked like a guy who never suffered a severe neck injury, and was even better the next year in 2013, taking that team all the way to Super Bowl XLVIII. However, he was still looking for that last title.
Sadly by 2015, the skills were starting to diminish. Manning couldn't stay healthy, and struggled to guide the Broncos to a 7-1 start to the season. He threw a career low nine touchdowns, and by mid-season had to be replaced by Brock Osweiler. While Osweiler did a great job keeping the Broncos in contention, we all knew that it was a matter of time before a healthy Manning would get another chance. He got that in Week 17, coming in for Osweiler in a game against the Chargers, and guided the Broncos to a win. He then managed efforts through the month of January, not making any mistakes and letting his defense do the damage as Denver won that elusive super bowl.
A lot of people expected this to be Manning's last rodeo, and it was. While some people will try to bring Manning down with the sexual assault case from his days at Tennessee that has been reborn in recent weeks, or the bogus steroid rumors from Al Jazzera, nobody can, nor should question Manning's greatness. He was the best at his position. The humble pitch man, comedian, all star, and friendly face that the NFL talks about wanting to showcase year in and year out.
Peyton Manning did it his way, and we are all going to miss watching him on the field. The NFL will never be the same.