By Alex Norman
As of press time, Peyton Manning had yet to make a decision as far as retirement.
But it is hard to imagine that “The Sheriff” won’t ride off into the sunset now…
Denver’s 24-10 dismantling of Carolina in Super Bowl 50 wasn’t Manning’s best performance. But it goes into the history books as his second Super Bowl championship and his 200th career win.
The story seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?
In his 18th NFL season, Manning played through injuries until he was benched in a Week 10 loss to Kansas City. For the next 6 weeks he watched as backup Brock Osweiller led Denver to a 4-2 record, including a victory over the rival New England Patriots.
But Osweiller struggled in a Week 17 game against San Diego that the Broncos had to have to gain home field advantage and a first round bye in the AFC playoffs. In the third quarter Manning returned and while he was rusty, Denver survived.
And now the story started to get good.
First there was a 222 yard passing performance in a close win over Pittsburgh in the Divisional Playoffs. In the AFC championship game, Manning would once again face his friendly nemesis, Tom Brady and the Patriots. Manning threw two touchdown passes and the Broncos defense (yet again) was lights out in knocking Brady to the turf time and time again. Denver hung on for a 20-18 upset, and it was off to the Super Bowl. The win also gave Manning a 3-2 record all-time against Brady in the playoffs.
But still, the knock on Manning’s career has been his postseason history. Entering these playoffs Manning’s teams were one and done nine times. Overall he had a below .500 record (11-13), and was 1-2 in Super Bowls.
However, if we are only to use the NFL playoffs to decide who is better, what do we do with Dan Fouts (no Super Bowl appearances, Hall of Famer), Dan Marino (one Super Bowl appearance, no wins, Hall of Famer) and Trent Dilfer (one Super Bowl appearance, one win, mediocre career)?
Would Manning have made more Super Bowls if he had Bill Belichick as his coach instead of a revolving door of great coaches (Tony Dungy, future Hall of Famer), good coaches (Gary Kubiak) and awful coaches (Jim Caldwell), among others? In all Manning took two separate teams to the Super Bowl with four different head coaches, going 1-1 with Indianapolis and Denver. No quarterback has ever accomplished those feats.
The interesting thing about Manning’s two Super Bowl wins is that the 2006 Colts and the 2015 Broncos were by no means Manning’s best overall teams. The 2005 Colts started 13-0 and probably go to the Super Bowl if Nick Harper runs to the sideline after a late Jerome Bettis fumble instead of the middle of the field where he would be tackled by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Heck, the 2009 Colts started 14-0 before Jim Caldwell screwed up his team’s momentum by pulling starters for fear of injuries in Week 16. That Colts team lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl.
The point is that Manning played the hand he was dealt. He never will reach Bradshaw, Montana and Brady (4 Super Bowl wins a piece, and Brady might pick up a couple more before he is done), but the 5 league MVP awards, the most touchdown passes in a career (539) and most passing yards for a career (71,940) make it impossible to keep Manning out of that fraternity.
In Super Bowl 50 Manning threw for only 141 yards, with 13 completions in 23 attempts. He had an interception and a fumble. And it was more than enough this time. Years ago it would not have been, but this season it was. And going out with a Lombardi Trophy is the perfect ending to a storied career.
But the whole “ride off into the sunset” thing isn’t really for Peyton though, is it? It’s for us. We don’t want to see Johnny Unitas limping around as a Charger or Willie Mays stumble with the Mets. So we want to see the 39 year old Manning end his Hall of Fame career in the best way possible.
And eventually become the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, obviously.
Jon Gruden rumors can’t last forever, right?