Peyton Manning called it quits today at a press conference in Englewood, Colorado. The legendary QB is not only quitting while he’s ahead, but with his reputation intact as the greatest regular season QB of this generation, and the epitome of a genetically and statistically flawless player.
At the age of 39, Manning was able to accomplish something unprecedented on the football field one last time by leading his underdog Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 win over Cam Newton and The Dab-along gang.
His favorite player growing up was Dan Marino, which makes sense, because those two guys are the greatest pure pigskin slingers the game has ever seen. His greatest inspiration outside of his Dad Archie was Colts QB legend Johnny Unitas, who preceded him decades earlier as the game’s transcending signal caller.
Unitas, who also played 18 years in the NFL, was one of the first people Manning mentioned when he hit the podium. Manning recalled what Unitas said to him when he was a young QB on a desperate hunt for his first Super Bowl,
"He said, 'Peyton keep at it. I’m pulling for you,'” Manning recalls. “I hope number 19 is up there in heaven with his flat top and maybe his black high tops on. And I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he’s even a little proud of me," Peyton said as he fought back tears. "There’s something about 18 years and 18 is a good number and today I retire from pro football.”
Before Manning spoke at the press conference, Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis recalled a conversation he had with owner Pat Bowlen when he signed Peyton from the Colts four years ago.
“Pat said at the time that our goal has always been to win Super Bowls,” said Ellis,”and Peyton gives us a chance to win another one... He couldn’t have been more right about that.”
No team has one won more games in the last four years than Peyton Manning and the Broncos. He also captured four AFC West division titles.
The physical challenges of this 2015 season, coupled with accusations of HGH use that led to an NFL investigation and a post-Super Bowl story about Peyton’s connection to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a group of former Tennessee students, were all signs that Manning would be better off retiring.
Better that then overstay his already extended welcome and expose himself to further scrutiny, criticism and risk tarnishing what has been an unblemished legacy until recently.
Weeks after capturing his second Super Bowl title, the platinum career of the NFL's all-time passing leader and TD tosser has come to an end two decades after entering the league as the No. 1 overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
Manning accomplished what John Elway brought him here to do in 2013.
(Photo Credit: denverbroncos.com)
"Having been through it, I know this is a tough day for Peyton, “ Elway said at the press conference, televised live on NFL Network. "There isn't a guy in the NFL that can say he has done everything there is to do at the quarterback position, but Peyton Manning can say that."
With the mission completed and Peyton driving off into the sunset, the Broncos have been preparing for this moment and already offered Manning's backup Brock Osweiler a lucrative three-year contract. He may go elsewhere, however, as the Broncos understandably have less faith in his potential greatness than when Peyton took over the starting position in Colorado.
“It was a treat for our new QB to get to sit and learn from Peyton Manning everyday,” Elway said.
Manning revolutionized the QB position and like Tom Brady said, was the standard bearer for all upcoming QBs. His pocket presence was legendary, his consistency is unrivaled and the way he took control of a huddle and freely audibled and executed pre-snap adjustments elevated him to supreme individual standing.
He was the ultimate maestro. The consensus belief among pro football experts is that Manning is the best ever at reading defenses and avoiding a sack without having gifted athleticism or mobility. Some go as far as to say that he mastered the quarterback position and turned NFL games into video games.
In addition, Manning won a record five league MVPs and won 12 games seven years in a row with the Colts. His second Super Bowl triumph gave him an NFL record 200 career wins (regular season and playoffs combined). He also made more history on the way out, becoming the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
Despite harsh criticism for not winning more Super Bowls, Manning's superior impact on the game can’t be discredited. It took Manning four tries to win his first postseason game, which came in 2003. And Bill Belichick's Patriots were brick walls to his success as they were able to stop some of Manning's best Colts offenses in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs.
But eventually, Manning was able to defeat the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship game 21-3 and capture his first NFL title, silencing the doubters.
Manning has embodied the definition of agony and defeat and reached the highest thrills of victory. No matter how much his celebrity rose as the face of the NFL’s billion dollar marketing machine and the main pitchman for Papa John’s pizza, he was always a team-first guy.
His head coach Gary Kubiak gave a perfect example of Peyton's selflessness and leadership when shedding light on how difficult a process it was as Peyton worked through injuries late in the season and accepted being benched from Osweiler in order to heal up for a playoff run.
"Peyton was special along the way," Kubiak said. "It was only nine months for me, but I will remember him for a lifetime. When he was hurt and we were trying to win the division, he came to me and said, 'I don’t want to be a distraction I’m not ready to play yet. You keep everybody focused on the team and I’ll get myself well.'"
Peyton returned with the presence, if not the skills, equal to when he returned from his neck surgery in 2012 and turned the Broncos into the highest scoring offense in NFL history. In the playoffs, his passes didn't have the same zip. His deep ball looked like it needed a respirator at times, but his leadership, preparation and even sense of humor proved that what made Manning special has nothing to do with all the records, but everything to do with his relationships with people.