Perhaps he’s no longer at the top of his game, but Peyton Manning is exiting the playing part of his illustrious football career as a winner nonetheless.
The New Orleanian, the most prolific quarterback in NFL history, will announce his retirement Monday in Denver, where he played for the past four seasons — including this past one, when he overcame injury to help the Broncos win Super Bowl 50 to give him two championship rings.
Manning’s retirement had been widely anticipated since the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, but he waited a month to make it official. The oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl, Manning will turn 40 on March 24.
Among those on hand Monday will be Manning’s family — wife Ashley and twins Mosley and Marshall, parents Archie and Olivia and brothers Cooper and Eli, the latter a two-time Super Bowl winner himself.
“At some point for us all, football ends. And for my brother, it’s ending now,” Eli Manning said Sunday on ESPN. “It’s hard to express what he put of himself in the game for all of these years — his heart, his mind, his will, his body. There are the numbers, and they are incredible, but they don’t define his passion for the game. Brother, what a career.”
Manning, who prepped at Newman and then played collegiately at Tennessee, played 17 seasons in the NFL — 13 with the Indianapolis Colts, whom he led to victory in Super Bowl XLI in 2007. He spent the past four in Denver after he missed the 2011 season following spinal fusion surgery.
“Peyton was a player the guys wanted to play with. That made us better as a team,” said Broncos general manager John Elway, who, like Manning, retired after winning the Super Bowl. “I am thankful that Peyton chose to play for the Denver Broncos, and I am thrilled that we were able to win a championship in his final year.”
The NFL’s only five-time MVP and a seven-time first-team All-Pro, Manning retires with the league records for passing yards in a season (5,477) and career (71,940), touchdown passes in a game (seven), season (55) and career (539), and the most victories as a starter in regular-season games (186) and including the playoffs (200), along with many other marks.
But this past season, Manning’s diminishing physical skills, acerbated by a torn plantar fascia that caused him to miss seven starts, made it obvious he could no longer play at the high level he had displayed as recently as 2014.
Fitness expert Mackie Shilstone, who put Manning through an extensive evaluation last year to determine whether he was capable of playing another season, said he felt Manning should not subject himself to the physical trauma of returning in 2016, but he added, “He already knew he would have to drive himself through last season. It was Peyton’s mental toughness that allowed him to come off the bench after six weeks and do what needed to be done in the playoffs. I’ve never worked with an athlete who was so compliant about doing what it takes to be ready to play.”
During the playoffs, Manning hinted that he was ready to retire, telling New England coach Bill Belichick after the Broncos’ victory over his longtime archrival, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in the AFC championship game, “This might be my last rodeo. So it sure has been a pleasure.”
But Manning declined to make any announcement after the Super Bowl or in the days following, saying he wanted the attention to go to his team and what it had accomplished.
But it was nearly time for Manning to decide to retire or wait for Denver to decline his 2016 contract option, which would have paid him $19 million. That deadline is Wednesday. And apparently there were no other teams willing to pay Manning the money required for him to wear a new uniform next season.
Archie Manning had said after the Super Bowl that his son “was done” in Denver, and Olivia Manning told reporters at the game that she wanted her son to retire.
There also was the matter of having to deal with reports — which Manning emphatically denied — linking him to human growth hormone, which supposedly was delivered to his wife in 2011 while he was trying to recover from neck surgery, as well as the resurfacing of a 1996 incident (when he was a junior at Tennessee) involving exposing himself to a female athletic trainer. The latter incident was cited in a lawsuit filed by a group of women alleging that the university had created a “hostile sexual environment,” although lawyers have said Manning is not a target of the suit.
“It’s all garbage,” former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said of the controversy.
At any rate, Manning’s off-field life is far better known for his charitable endeavors in Tennessee, Indiana and most recently the Denver area.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, Peyton and Eli delivered several truckloads of supplies to New Orleans. And a week ago, all three Manning brothers were at Newman for ceremonies renaming the school’s upgraded sports facilities the Manning Family Athletic Complex, as well as naming the entrance plaza to Lupin Field Reginelli Way in honor of Tony Reginelli, who coached and taught at Newman for 37 years and was head coach during Cooper’s and Peyton’s playing days.
The Manning brothers spearheaded fundraising for the $3 million project.
“It was a really wonderful day,” said Newman coach Nelson Stewart, a prep teammate of both Cooper and Peyton. “To see Peyton stand up there after winning the Super Bowl, making a wonderful speech about how important Coach Reg was to him, shows what kind of person he is. He didn’t want the spotlight to himself. But for Newman, it was a chance to congratulate the entire family.”
Manning also has become known as a top advertising pitchman for products such as Buick, Nationwide Insurance and Papa John’s, in which he has a considerable financial stake. He has hosted “Saturday Night Live,” performing again on the 40th anniversary show last year, and was the sports representative on the final “Late Show with David Letterman.”
But Manning will remain best-known for his accomplishments on the playing field. He was especially regarded for his level of preparation, one that former Colts general manager Bill Polian said Sunday on ESPN “dragged everybody along in his wake. Everybody else drafted off of Peyton. He has an incredible football mind and an unsurpassed work ethic. Peyton never changed. And he brought the other players to a level of confidence they never thought they could achieve.”
While Manning could be demanding of his teammates, he also was considered warm and supporting. St. Augustine and Tulane product Lorenzo Doss was a rookie cornerback with the Broncos last season, and he said he and Manning regularly talked about New Orleans — especially their mutual love of crawfish. And while Doss appeared in only three games this season and was inactive for the Super Bowl, he said Manning was always encouraging and complimenting him for his work on the scout team.
“He would always tell you when you gave the offense a good look,” Doss said. “You could tell he was keeping up with everything. It was just phenomenal being Peyton’s teammate this season. He is a true leader, and I was blessed to be on the team with him.”
Manning’s immediate future is uncertain. He is unlikely to go into coaching, but already there have been reports of lucrative offers to enter broadcasting. More likely is his stated desire to run a team, much as Elway has done with the Broncos. The Tennessee Titans, with an uncertain ownership situation, are a possibility, especially given Manning’s popularity in the state where he played in college.
One thing that is certain: Manning is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021, the first year he’s eligible.
“Super Bowl champion, and then the Hall of Fame,” Doss said. “That’s the greatest way you can go out.”