Everyman and superman: Sundays won't be the same without Peyton Manning
For a man whose career was built in significant part on his preternatural capacity for making quick decisions, Peyton Manning sure took his time .
To those of us watching from the outside, it was obvious that Super Bowl 50 should be his final stand. would allow one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time to ride off into the sunset as a champion, at the end of a season when it had once appeared that his old and battered body might instead need to be forcibly led out to pasture.
But how could we expect Manning to be so clear-headed about saying goodbye to the only job he ever wanted? As a kid he would memorise word-for-word the recorded radio broadcasts from games played by his quarterback father. As an adult he got to live this sport instead of listening to it. What other line of work could ever provide him with even a fraction of that same satisfaction?
He will not be short of offers. , with an estimated $12m in endorsements in 2015. His cheesy jokes and self-deprecating sense of humour made him relatable to audiences in a way that few others could be. Where Tom Brady, with his supermodel wife and (until recently) LA mansion, has been the perfect pitchman for upscale brands like Movado and Gláceau Smartwater, Manning has hawked Oreo cookies and Papa John’s Pizza.
But it was not the charm and the goofball wit that caught our attention in the first place. No advertising executive would have taken the time to notice Manning’s human qualities were it not for on a football field. Over the past 18 years, we have watched Manning throw more touchdown passes and more passing yards than any other player in NFL history, and be named five times as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
The last five have been the most remarkable. Discarded by the after losing the entire 2011 season to his recovery from four neck surgeries, Manning’s ability to ever start another game was in doubt. During his first workouts after the injury, Manning struggled to grip a football, or throw it for more than five yards.
In the end, he would start another 65 - including a pair of Super Bowls. In 2013 he put together the best campaign of his, or any other quarterback’s, career - .
As remarkable as such feats were, the Broncos’ eventual defeat to Seattle at Super Bowl XLVIII still led many observers to dismiss the whole season as a failure – just another predictable disappointment in the career of a player who never knew how to win the biggest games consistently. For all the gaudy statistics that he has piled up down the years, Manning was on course to retire with just a single championship to his name.
He had lost two of the three Super Bowls that he played in – both times as the favorite – but more striking was the statistic showing that Manning’s teams been defeated in their opening playoff game on nine separate occasions. No other NFL quarterback has gone ‘one and done’ more than four times since the 1960s.
That figure should be viewed in the context of Manning’s regular-season success. A quarterback must get his team into the playoffs before he can lose there, and few others have done so with such unerring consistency.
But such a persistent pattern of postseason underachievement remained a major blemish on Manning’s resume. His supporters consider him to be the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. But could he be considered as such when others had achieved so much more success on the sport’s greatest stage?
Even after his second Super Bowl win last month, and notwithstanding the fact that Manning now owns a 3-1 record against Brady in playoff games, there will still be those who say that he should have done more. His two championships are only half the number won by the New England Patriot - who has time yet to add more - or indeed Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
But the constant drive to rank players feels reductive. There are no objective criteria for determining greatness on the gridiron. The joy of sport is that we all get to have an opinion.
What is certain is that Manning will be remembered as someone who helped to define the way professional football was played around the turn of the millennium. His records will eventually fall, but he will always be a poster boy for a generation of quarterbacks who – aided by a steady drip of new rules restricting defenders – made the NFL emphatically a passing league.
He will be remembered as a player of extraordinary footballing intelligence, trusted by coaches to manage an entire offense from the line of scrimmage in a manner unlike anyone who went before him. He will be remembered for the pre-snap wiggles, gestures and line calls. He will be remembered for
He will be remembered for the downfield throws he made early in his career, like an on the opening play of Monday Night Football. He will be remembered for relying on shorter passes more often in the wake of his neck surgery, but still throwing against Baltimore.
He will be remembered for fourth-quarter comebacks, of which he had seven in the 2009 season alone. He will be remembered for to beat New England in the 2006 AFC Championship game, much though Patriots fans would rather forget it.
He will be remembered by some of his peers as a mentor. Russell Wilson, a man who hopes to write his own legacy as one of the great quarterbacks in this league, penned - recalling how he had been inspired while attending one of the many training camps that “The Sheriff” has hosted for high school players down the years.
Peyton Manning will be remembered for his biggest mistakes, too – for the to the end zone to seal the Saints’ upset of Manning’s Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, or the two picks he threw against Seattle in 2014. Recent off-field allegations are also threatening to tarnish his achievements. First there were the claims he took , while have also resurfaced since his Super Bowl win.
But, for now at least, he will be remembered for what he was: an exceptional, era-defining quarterback who somehow managed to ally his superstar talent with an affable everyman demeanour.
Sundays will not be the same without him.