2x Super Bowls, 1x Super Bowl MVP, 14x Pro Bowls, 7x First Team All-Pro, 5x NFL MVP, 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year etc etc etc
Career statistics: 9380 passes, 6125 completions, 71940 yards, 539 TD’s, 96.5 passer rating
How does one start writing about Peyton Manning? How do you put in words the story of the player who chose your own team for you? Back in 2013, I watched him breaking every single offensive record with the Broncos, but still losing the SuperBowl hands down to the Seahawks. It was in the third game of the 2014 season that something magical happened. In Seattle, with the 12's demanding a repeat of the Super Bowl triumph and the Broncos trailing by 5 points, Manning's pass was intercepted by Kam Chancellor and the Hawks were now leading by 8. With only 52 seconds on the clock, against the then-best NFL defense and 80 yards away from the endzone i made a mental bet against him.
"Do it...and i'll be a Broncos fan for life"
And the bloody bastard did it... Sanders, Thomas and Tamme all got deep passes and suddenly the score was 20-18. A 2-point conversion to Demaryius Thomas later and i had a team to root for in the NFL...the one Peyton chose for me. The Seahawks ended up winning the game in overtime, but it didn't matter any more.
In college Peyton surprised everyone by choosing the Tennessee Vols instead of his father's college team, the Ole Miss Rebels. His father of course being Archie Manning, a Pro Bowl Quarterback in the NFL. During his 4-year tenure there he scored 89 TD's and threw for 11201 yards. His No 16 jersey has since been retired by the Vols.
In the 1998 Draft the scouts were divided about who was the correct choice for the No 1 spot. The other choice, besides Peyton, was an extremely athletic QB by the name of Ryan Leaf. In the end the Colts made the right choice by selecting Manning first overall and Leaf ended up with the Chargers at No 2. To this day he is considered to be one of the biggest Draft busts of all time.
As fate would have it, Manning's first NFL win came against Ryan Leaf's Chargers, but the Colts finished the season with a horrible 3-13 record. In 1999 that record was reversed to 13-3 and the second place of the AFC, but after the playoff bye the Colts would lose to Tennessee 19-16 in a game that Manning was reduced to a single rushing TD.
In 2003, with Tony Dungy as the head coach for a whole year already, the domination of Manning and the Colts began. It would last for the next seven years with the team never losing more than four regular season games and always playing in the playoffs. With a 12-4 record the first playoff opponent was the Denver Broncos and the Colts crushed them 41-10. The Chiefs went down next 38-31 and in the AFC final the Patriots with their top defense were waiting. Four interceptions by the Pats had a lot to do with the final 24-14 defeat. The trip to the Super Bowl would remain a dream for now, but the first MVP title (of many to come) was a fact. For the record, Manning was co-MVP along with Steve McNair of the Titans.
In 2004 the MVP vote was a mere formality. With 49 TD's, 4557 passing yards, just 10 interceptions and a 9,9% TD passing percentage Manning got 49 out of 50 votes. Three Colts receivers had that season over 1000 yards and 10+ TD's each. The record was once more 12-4, the Wild Card round opponent was the same (Broncos) and winning was equally easy with Peyton throwing for 457 yards and four TD's. The end of the season was familiar too though with a 20-3 defeat in Foxborough by the Patriots. The record between Brady and Manning already stood at 6-0 and the biggest Quarterback battle in history seemed to be over before it even began.
In 2005 the Colts defense improved and with a 14-2 record they found themselves at the very top of the AFC. During the regular season Manning would get his first ever win over Brady with 40-21, in Gillette Stadium no less. The Divisional Round would bring the Colts against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Big Ben Roethlisberger. A minute before the end of the game the Steelers were leading by 3 and had 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line. They went with a running play, but Jerome Bettis fumbled the ball and the Colts D had the chance to score a defensive TD. The last obstacle they had to clear was Big Ben himself, but with an amazing shoe string tackle he saved his team. A missed field goal later the Colts were once again outside the race for the Lombardi.
In 2006 it was Peyton's time at long last. With a 12-4 regular season record (and another win over the Patriots in Gillette) the Colts were 3rd in the AFC. They began their playoff trip with a 23-8 victory over the Chiefs and went on to beat the Ravens in a low scoring 15-6 game. Now it was once again time to face the Patriots and Tom Brady. Already trailing 14-3, Peyton's pass was intercepted by Asante Samuel who ran it all the way back to the endzone for a pick-6 and made everybody doubt if Peyton would ever emerge from Tom Brady's shadow. Leading the Colts to a 32-point second half and the biggest comeback ever in a conference championship game, Peyton answered a lot of his critics and kept the debate about the best QB alive. The Super Bowl against the Bears was almost anti-climactic compared to the AFC final. The Colts won 29-17, Manning got the Super Bowl MVP title and exorcised his demons from years past.
In 2007 the 13-3 record didn't translate in a great playoff run as the Chargers threw the Colts out of contention with a 28-24 win. Manning went to the ProBowl and was excited to see his little brother Eli swipe the Lombardi Trophy from the Patriots and Brady. In 2008 the third MVP title came along after surpassing 4000 yards for the 9th time in his career, extending his own record. In the playoffs it was the Chargers again that sent the Colts home to watch the rest of the games from the comfort of their couch.
In 2009 Jim Caldwell took the reins of the team. Manning was leading the team from win to win, reaching the top of the AFC with a 14-2 record. The fourth MVP title came almost predictably, breaking the tie with Brett Favre for first place. The Ravens in the divisional round and the Jets in the AFC final didn't prove enough of an obstacle, so the Colts reached the Super Bowl. There they would face the Saints with Drew Brees and coach Payton. It was Payton's famous risk, the successful onside kick to start the second half, that gave the Saints the psychological boost they needed to come back from the 10-0 Colts halftime lead and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to New Orleans.
2010 was yet another year of amazing regular season achievements for Peyton and an early playoff exit. This time it was the Jets that beat the Colts 17-16 and sent them packing. During the summer of 2011 Manning renewed his contract for another five years with the team for 90 million. Earlier that year he had undergone a neck surgery which seemed to affect his throwing motion quite a bit. After consulting with several doctors the decision was made for a second surgery on September 8. This, of course, meant the Colts would be without their star QB for the whole season. In his absence the team would seemingly start to focus on the post-Manning era and they would enact the "Suck for Luck" plan. Basically that meant they would actively go after the last place in the regular season (2-14 record) in order to draft Andrew Luck in the upcoming 2012 Draft. On March 7 2012 (exactly one day before they had to pay an active roster bonus of 28 million) Colts would cut Manning making him the most sought-after free agent in NFL history. The ensuing Manning sweepstakes would be won by the Denver Broncos and their GM John Elway (legendary former QB with 2 SuperBowl rings). Peyton signs a five-year 96 million contract and dreams of closing out his career the way Elway did. Broncos would even allow him to wear his favorite No 18 which had been previously retired in honor of Frank Tripucka.
The first game of the Broncos era would be against the Steelers. Two touchdowns, 253 yards with no interceptions and a QB rating of 129.2 would go a long way to show everyone that Manning wasn't affected by the multiple neck surgeries. Broncos would finish the season with a 13-3 record, but would lose in the playoffs to the Ravens in double overtime with 35-38. The Ravens, lead by the red-hot Joe Flacco, would go on to win the SuperBowl that year.
The 2013 season kicked off in spectacular fashion. Against the reigning champions Ravens, Peyton would enter a very small club of QB's that have scored seven touchdowns in a single game. Actually he's one of only two players to have achieved the feat without an interception. The Broncos offense would be on fire the whole season with offensive weapons like Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. It's the only team to have ever achieved over 600 points in the regular season and Manning was a huge part of that. The records he broke that season are too many to list here. The most important ones were the 55 TD's in a single season, the 5477 passing yards and the four different receivers with double digit touchdowns. The 13-3 record brought the Broncos against the Chargers in the divisional round. They won 24-17 and had to face Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC final, where they prevailed by 26-16. That meant that the NFL's best offense would square off against the NFL's best defense of the Seattle Seahawks for the Super Bowl. Everything was seemingly decided on the very first snap of the game. Peyton was going back to the line of scrimmage for an audible and he watched in horror as his center, Manny Ramirez, snapped the ball that sailed past his head and into the Broncos endzone. There it was recovered by RB Moreno who saved the touchdown but gave up the safety and the psychological momentum to the Seahawks. The Hawks went on to win in spectacular fashion 43-8 and showed John Elway that he would need something more than the best offense in history to claim the grand prize.
In 2014, after 17 seasons in the NFL, the real records started to break like Brett Favre's 508 touchdowns. Peyton scored his 509th against the 49ers on a pass to Demaryius Thomas at the corner of the endzone. During the season premiere against the Colts he would become on of only two QB's to beat all 32 NFL teams (along with Brett Favre). At the end of the season he would be once more selected for the Pro Bowl for the 14th time tying Tony Gonzalez, Bruce Matthews and Merlin Olsen for first place on that list. Unfortunatelly for the Broncos this transitional year would have a sad ending at the Colts' hands with a divisional round 24-13 loss.
2015 was the 18th (like his jersey number) and final year for Peyton in the NFL. Broncos would start the season with an impressive 8-0 run, but that would mostly be the result of their excellent defensive unit and not Manning's play. During that stretch he had recorded 9 touchdowns and 13 interceptions which says a lot about how mediocre he was. It was against the Chiefs, during week 10, that the season would take a peculiar turn. Initially he would break Favre's passing yards record with a pass to Ronnie Hillman. A bit later in the game he would be benched for the first time in his career after 4 interceptions and a passer rating of 0,0! After the game the team would announce that he suffered from a leg injury and he would probably miss some time. He will end up missing six games (Broncos went 4-2 in that span with QB Brock Osweiler) and will be declared as a backup QB for the very first time in his career for Week 17 against the Chargers. Two interceptions and a fumble by Osweiler will give coach Gary Kubiak the perfect opportunity to put Manning back in the game. He will lead the team to a 27-20 victory (after trailing 7-13) and he will reclaim the QB spot for the playoffs while also having clinched the top spot of the AFC.
The Steelers were the divisional round opponent (without the services of Antonio Brown and Lev'eon Bell) and the Broncos would go on to win 23-16 in a game that also contained this. Up next were the Patriots in the 17th and last battle between Manning and Brady. Broncos were the better team overall and Manning was the game manager the team needed with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Patriots attempted to steal the game in the end with multiple 4th-and-long completions. They even scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left, but they needed a 2-point conversion which was unsuccessful and so the Broncos had the ticket for another trip to the Super Bowl. Peyton was now very close to the dream of closing out his career with a second SuperBowl ring, but in his way stood the MVP of the regular season Cam "Superman" Newton and the Carolina Panthers with the 15-1 record and a couple of impressive playoff wins. Manning was mediocre in the game, but the team didn't really need him because Von Miller and the rest of the defense took it upon themselves to carry him to the promised land. John Elway had learned his lesson and only two years after the embarassing defeat to the Seahawks he had transformed the team to have the NFL's best defense. Peyton wins for the 200th time, he lifts the Lombardi Trophy for the second time and on March 18 2016 he walks into the NFL sunset with these words: "I've fought a good fight. I've finished my football race and after 18 years, it's time. God bless all of you and God bless football."
Maybe he didn't have Brady's or Montana's rings. Maybe he didn't have Aaron Rodgers' complete game and highlight reel. But he was always the biggest student and lover of the game. He was always the most prepared player on the field, watching countless hours of film, giving 100% in each and every practice and demanding 100% from his receivers. He could read the opposing defense pre-snap like very few ever could and had the special ability to cause the opposing defensive line to go offsides just with the cadence and complexion of this voice. That made him so great in the hearts of so many. And if the Broncos defense had to carry him to his second Lombardi, that was only justice if you consider how many receivers and tight ends made their careers with Peyton's passes in his time in the NFL.