By Alex Norman

Tennessee fans… Think about how one would script Peyton Manning’s final season.

Another NFL MVP award?  A second Super Bowl title?  Those are the type of things that come to mind.

Struggling due to a weak arm and a foot injury while losing your starting spot as the Denver Broncos quarterback doesn’t make that list.

If this is indeed Manning’s final season as an NFL quarterback, it hasn’t been of the John Elway type variety.

And now, Manning’s nearly pristine public image is under attack as well.

A report from Al Jazeera links Manning to a Human Growth Hormone (HGH) supplier in Indianapolis in 2011.  The report uses secretly taped video in which Charlie Sly (yep, that’s actually his name), who worked at the Guyer Institute, states that they would send HGH to Ashley Manning, Peyton’s wife. Sly would later deny all statements he made in the Al Jazeera report.

Al Jazeera’s Deborah Davies went on the Today Show to defend the report.  She said that in the program they are not saying that they have evidence that Manning took HGH.  The inference, of course, is that these drugs were meant for Peyton but put under Ashley’s name is to make sure there is no direct link to the future NFL Hall of Famer.

Manning had strong denials to accusations in an on-camera interview with ESPN the day the report aired, saying that he has never used HGH.  “Absolutely not, absolutely not,”

Manning said. “What hurts me the most about this, whoever this guy is, this slapstick (Sly) trying to insinuate that in 2011, when more than less I had a broken neck, I had four neck surgeries.  It stings me whoever this guy is to insinuate that I cut corners…  I broke NFL rules in order to get healthy. It’s a joke. It’s a freaking joke.”

The National Football League banned HGH in 2011, but only started testing its players for it in 2014.

Most in the NFL family are defending Manning, including someone that knows a few things about scandal.  On Westwood One Sports, Tom Brady said, “I sent him a text.  He always has my support. I’m sure everything is going to work out fine for him.  I think most importantly, you hate to see any of your friends go through anything like that. I can certainly sympathize with him as a friend, as someone that I’ve known for 16 years and have so much respect and admiration for what he’s accomplished in the NFL. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and I feel terrible for him going through it.

He’s a great friend more than anything else. We’ll be lifelong friends. I think I’ve seen him go through a lot of things over the years, and what he’s battled back from, and he’s just had an incredible career.”

Manning says that he might take legal action against Al Jazeera, but that seems unlikely, if for no other reason that heading to the courts would extend the lifespan of the story.  It would also open Peyton, and his wife Ashley, up to more scrutiny and more questions about exactly what the HGH was used for, and for whom.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Peyton Manning many times over the years in individual and group settings.  He is almost always polished and never flustered.  His interview with ESPN showed a heated and angry Manning.  If those emotions take over he might take all means at his disposal to clear his name.

For someone as much in the public eye as Manning has become over the past two decades, he remains a private person.  He’s worked hard to craft that image that appeals to Madison Avenue.  The idea that he is a cheat doesn’t not fit that image.

Did Manning take HGH?  It’s hard to believe that he did, if for no other reason than this… wouldn’t he have been smart enough to not involve his wife and have deliveries to his home address?

The truth of the matter is that we shouldn’t be surprised when our sports figures lie to us.  Lance Armstrong.  Alex Rodriguez. Ben Johnson.

The list of drug cheats goes on and on.

For Manning, this is shaping up to be the final battle of his pro career and one that will have no definitive winner or loser.  Even if completely exonerated there will be those that think he cheated.

For that reason, it might be his biggest battle yet.