Peyton Manning holds a league-record four league MVP awards and surely will add his fifth Saturday night. He has earned 13 Pro Bowl selections. He set NFL records this season with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards. He owns a Super Bowl ring.
So what’s left?
More yards, more touchdowns, more victories and maybe more championships, of course.
A victory in Sunday’s Super Bowl likely seals the mythical title of greatest quarterback ever for the Denver Broncos quarterback. But don’t think for a second the 37-year-old has considered walking away on top.
Not when he’s coming off the best season of his 16-season career.
“I know there are a number of players who have walked away as champions,” Manning said Sunday night after the Broncos arrived to begin their Super Bowl XLVIII preparations. “I’m sure that’s a great feeling for those people. John Elway. Ray Lewis did it last year. Michael Strahan. In talking to Ray Lewis and talking to John Elway, they couldn’t play. That was all they had to give. They truly left it all out there.
“I’ve certainly had a career change two years ago, with my injury, with changing teams, so I have truly have been kind of a one-year-at-a-time basis. I really have no plans beyond this game and no plans coming into this season beyond this year. I think that’s the healthy way to approach your career at this stage.
“I still enjoy playing football, and I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point, coming off that surgery. I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the work part of it. … When you still enjoy the preparation and the work part of it, I think you probably still ought to be doing that. I think as soon as I stop enjoying it, if I can’t produce, if I can’t help a team, that’s when I stop playing. If that’s next year, maybe it is. But I certainly want to keep playing.”
Manning’s career flashed before his eyes in 2011 when he missed the season, undergoing four neck surgeries in 18 months. The last was a serious anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).
He insisted on resuming his career against all odds and despite weakness in his right arm that required him to relearn how to throw. He started over in Denver after the Colts released him to make room for Andrew Luck. Luck played in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night. Manning plays in his third career Super Bowl this coming Sunday.
“In my opinion, no question, a first-ballot Hall of Famer at some point,” Broncos coach John Fox said Sunday. “He’s a tremendous, tremendous player, as well as a [tremendous] guy, as far as what he went through.
“It’s a pretty different injury that he experienced. To work back and learn a new offense, learn a new football team, learn a new city, and two years later be in the Super Bowl is pretty incredible. I hope that’s glowing enough.”
Manning has scored enough bouquets, praise and pats on the back to last a career. But perhaps the greatest compliment he receives is the frequent mentions by teammates and coaches of Manning’s love for the game.
It’s what keeps him coming back year after year after year and next year.
“You can just tell he enjoys it, and he loves it,” Broncos receiver Wes Welker said. “He loves being around the guys. He loves the game planning. He loves Sundays. You can just tell all of the aspects of the game, he really enjoys.
“… Arguably this is the best year of his career this year. You really don’t see him slowing down at all.”