Peyton Manning is claimed by a number of teams and cities, but Indianapolis is where he did the great majority of his NFL work, so people here will be paying close attention the next 13 days as he prepares for his ride into a glorious sunset – or so his fans hope.
Manning’s body has failed him often over the past five years, resulting in multiple back surgeries, plantar fascia issues, and a decided lack of velocity on his passes. It appeared that Manning would limp off the field for the last time as so many great quarterbacks before him – a loser who was the last to realize the magic was gone.
Not so fast. Manning has shown an uncanny ability to do just enough to put points on the board for an Broncos offense overshadowed by the tenacity and ferocity of its defense.
He’s a game manager now, but a great one. In yesterday’s win against the New England Patriots, Manning threw two touchdown passes to no picks while Tom Brady dealt two picks with one TD. That was the difference in the game.
If Hollywood was able to script Super Bowl L, Manning would leave the field for the final time a hero – a champion – a winner.
Here are the 10 reasons to be fascinated by Manning in this Super Bowl:
10 – Manning is now 3-1 vs. Tom Brady/Bill Belichick in AFC Championship games. Manning has won the last three matchups with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line against Tom Brady. If Brady and Belichick had been able to vanquish Manning, the Patriots record in super bowls would be incredible, but because Manning was just a little too good at all the right moments, no one is going to confuse them with the Steeler of the 1970s or the 49ers of the 1980s.
9 – In his 17 seasons, Manning’s Colts and Broncos teams have qualified for the playoffs 15 times. While his postseason record appears pedestrian (more on that later), the fact that Manning has only missed the playoffs in his rookie and fourth year in the NFL is incredible. In fact, the last time Manning didn’t make the playoffs, Newton was a 12-year-old struggling with fractions in the sixth grade.
8 – In his last nine seasons, Manning has gone to four Super Bowls. The ding against Manning has always been his record in the postseason, but in his last nine seasons, teams he has quarterbacked have played in four Super Bowls and put together a 10-7 playoff record. Not a bad legacy for a postseason choke artist.
7 – Super Bowl 50 (or L) is a historic milestone deserving of a compelling narrative. The last thing anyone wanted was a Super Bowl with Jay Cutler and Blake Bortles or the other 15-17 QBs in the NFL who are their equivalents. Manning is a regal name in the NFL, and Newton is the young, talented, and brash embodiment of the next gen of NFL leaders. Forget the #1 offense of the Panthers vs. the #1 defense of the Broncos – this is a matchup of generations and great QBs.
6 – Manning vs. Newton will be a passing of the torch between generations of quarterbacks. Cam Newton was just eight-years-old when Manning was drafted by the Colts, and now he will have the opportunity to take from Manning what he covets most. Granted, these quarterbacks will never be on the field at the same time, but the Manning vs. Newton subplot will be the driving marketing force behind the hype for Super Bowl L.
5 – A win in the Super Bowl would give Manning a winning record in the playoffs. Being a postseason loser has been the image that has dogged Manning throughout his career. In 15 trips to the postseason, Manning’s Colts and Broncos have lost in the first round nine times. Because the Broncos have won their first two playoff games this season, Manning’s postseason record is an even 13-13. This Super Bowl will either add to his NFL record of 13 losses, or allow him a career winning postseason record.
4 – Going out on top is the only way to go. Manning will almost certainly move on to the next phase of his life after this game. Watching Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, and dozens of other quarterbacks limp off the field as their skills and abilities faded to ordinary has been terribly sad. If Manning can find a little more magic and win his second Super Bowl over the Carolina Panthers, he could accomplish something very few in any sport have ever experienced – exiting a champion.
3 – Manning will be the first QB in NFL history to lead two franchises to two Super Bowls. Craig Morton and Kurt Warner have piloted different franchises to Super Bowls, but no one until now has ever done it twice for two teams. For all the smarts the Colts showed in allowing Manning to roll to Denver clearing the deck for Andrew Luck, Manning has had two more trips to the Super Bowl than Luck to this point in their shared era.
2 – Indy saw Manning become a man. When the Colts drafted Manning in 1998, he was a confident and eager boy with dreams of becoming the NFL’s best, and that is exactly what he did. I remember Manning dancing backstage at the Rod Stewart concert that celebrated the opening of the Emmis Building downtown. His dancing was as awkward as you might guess, but as a quarterback, he was on the brink of the consistent greatness for which he will be remembered.
1 – Peyton Manning will be the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Manning is an old, broken-down warrior who loves football enough to make people believe he has one more great three hours of football in him. He’ll be a month-and-a-half short of turning 40 when Super Bowl L is played. If Manning has any sense, this will be his last rodeo, and what a rodeo it might be. Manning will be 39 years-320 days old, shattering the previous record of John Elway, who was 38/217 at the end of Manning’s rookie season, when he became the oldest QB to start a Super Bowl.