There’s been a lot of talk about Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning hanging up his cleats and calling it a career after tomorrow’s Super Bowl 50. While Manning has neither confirmed nor denied the rumors and speculation, all signs point at retirement. Manning will turn 40 in March, has had serious medical issues recently, and lately looks a shell of his former self. But if we look back at Manning’s career, we can see the great legacy he will leave, no matter the result of the Super Bowl.
Starting as a Colt
Manning was drafted with the #1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He started all 16 games as a rookie, beginning a streak of 208 consecutive games started. The 1998 Colts struggled to a 3-13 record, in large part because of their defense, and Manning had to attempt an NFL-high 575 passes. He threw 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. 1999 would be a different story, however, as Manning threw only 15 interceptions to go with 26 more TDs. The Colts went 13-3, winning the AFC East, and Manning was named to his first Pro Bowl.
The next four years would be similar; Manning threw for an average of about 29 TDs each season, mostly kept his interceptions low, and the Colts were contenders nearly every season. In fact, 2001 was the second, and last, season that Manning would lead a team to a losing record, finishing 6-10. 2003 was a special year for Manning, as he was awarded the MVP award for the first time in his career. It was also the year of his first postseason win, a 41-10 trouncing of the Denver Broncos. The Colts made the AFC Championship game that year, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Manning was also named the starter of the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
MVP’s and Injuries
In 2004, Manning did something really special. He threw 49 touchdown passes in the regular season, and only 10 INTs. Both the total TDs and the TD-to-INT ratio were NFL records at the time. He also led the league in QB Rating with 121.1. Manning, for the second straight season, was named the NFL MVP. The Colts went 12-4 in 2004, again beat the Broncos in the AFC Wild Card game, but once more lost to the Patriots to end their season. While Manning’s TD count came back down to 28 in 2005, it was more of the same success for his team, as they went 14-2 and earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ suffocating defense wiped them off the map though, and they were again out before the end.
Finally, in 2006, Manning and the Colts would reach the promised land: they beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, and finally the Patriots to reach Super Bowl XLI. They faced the Chicago Bears, and defeated them soundly, 29-17. Manning did not have his best day, throwing just one touchdown and a pick, but he did enough to be named the MVP of the game.
Manning had continued success with the Colts through the 2010 season, winning back-to-back MVP awards again in 2008 and 2009. Manning’s Colts also reached the playoffs each season, and despite sometimes limited postseason success, Manning took the Colts back to the Super Bowl in 2009, though they lost to the New Orleans Saints 31-17.
Then disaster struck: Manning needed spinal fusion surgery in his neck, and it ended up costing him the entire 2011 season. For financial reasons, and the opportunity to pick Stanford super-prospect QB Andrew Luck in the upcoming draft, the Colts released Manning. While his jersey number has not yet been retired by the Colts, their owner has said that no Colts player will ever wear #18 again.
Ending up a Bronco
Manning signed with the Broncos in March of 2012, got himself into game shape, and started every game for the Broncos for three straight seasons. 2013 was a highlight season for Manning, as he surpassed his previous touchdown record (and the one set by the Patriots’ Tom Brady in 2007) with 55 TD passes, again with just 10 interceptions. The Broncos made it to Super Bowl XLVIII, but again fell victim to an amazing defense, losing to the Seattle Seahawks 43-8. In Denver, Manning added another MVP award in 2013; his 5 total MVPs are more than any other player in NFL history.
This season, Manning and the Broncos won their first seven games, but leg and back injuries would force Manning to miss six weeks of action. He returned to the field as a backup in week 17, leading his team to its 12th win of the year. The Broncos went to the playoffs every year that Manning was under center for them, and now approach a date with the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
In all, Manning has appeared in four Super Bowls and 27 total playoff games, counting Sunday. He has a 13-13 record in the playoffs, and has gone 1-2 in the big game. He holds the single-season and career passing touchdown records, is second to Brett Favre in career passes completed and attempted, and third in career passing yards per game. He holds a career completion percentage of 65.3%, fourth all-time, and a winning percentage of 70.2%.
All of this adds up, regardless of the outcome of Super Bowl 50, to a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Beyond that, though, Manning’s name has to be on the very short list of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, alongside all-timers like Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and Tom Brady.
Statistics provided by ESPN.com
Images thanks to Comcast Sports, Forbes, Epoch Times, 92.9 JackFM, & SportingNews