Peyton Manning isn’t concerned about his rivalry with Tom Brady, his legacy, where he’ll be playing next season, if he’ll be playing next season, whether he’ll be hosting Saturday Night Live again or even the $4 million he could realize by quarterbacking the Denver Broncos over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game plus Super Bowl 50.
Well, maybe a little bit about the money, but that’s understandable.
But to the person who knows him as much as anyone in the world, Manning’s sole focus this week is putting his legendary powers of concentration into preparing for what might be the final game of his career, against, appropriately enough, the only player whose accomplishments over the course of their long careers are considered superior by virtue of his having a 4-1 advantage in Super Bowl victories.
“He’s shutting everything else out, just like he normally does,” said older brother Cooper Manning, whose number, 18, Peyton has worn since Cooper’s football career was cut short by spinal stenosis. “I am sure he’s going through every single possible scenario: looking at as much film at the Patriots’ different defensive looks, how they react and just the long, long process of film work.
“But that’s pretty much what he does for every regular-season game.”
It’s the 17th time Manning and Brady have met, and Brady holds an 11-5 advantage.
And there are those four Super Bowls rings Brady has to Manning’s one.
However, in the playoffs, they’re 2-2 against each other, and the last time a Brady-quarterbacked team beat a Manning one in the playoffs was in 2004 divisional round.
“It’s hard to call it a rivalry,” Cooper said. “That’s more like tennis or boxing when you’re going one-on-one.
“Even in a sport like basketball, it’s about the team, and the better team usually wins.”
And as for what happens beyond Sunday, or in the Super Bowl, your guess is as good as Cooper’s.
“If I got into speculating what Peyton’s thinking most of the time, I’d lose,” he said. “That’s just a bad business to get into.”
Indeed. In some circles, Manning was considered done after a neck injury cost him the 2011 season and led to his separation from the Indianapolis Colts.
He came back to join the Broncos and led them to Super Bowl XLVIII a year later (the less said about that game the better), throwing for an NFL-record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown passes in the regular season.
A year ago, after the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to Indianapolis in the divisional round in which Manning played poorly, he was widely considered washed up for sure this time.
He came back.
And this season, when he played poorly in the early going and was finally benched to deal with a torn plantar fascia that cost him seven starts, it looked like the torch had been passed to Brock Osweiler.
And Manning came back again, game-managing a 23-16 victory against Pittsburgh to bring about Sunday’s showdown.
So while it’s obvious that Peyton’s physical skills are greatly diminished and he’s getting by on will combined with his encyclopedic knowledge of the game, it’s impossible to definitively say he’s done.
As Cooper said, it’s bad business to speculate about his brother’s intentions going forward.
“The thing you’ve got to know is that Peyton doesn’t do a whole of stuff by the seat of his pants,” he said. “He thinks about things and weighs them, and then he talks to people he respects and loves before he makes his call.
“He’s going to do his due diligence before he decides anything.”
It could be that Manning sees a point in trying to continue to play.
The Broncos seem ambivalent about the situation, just as they were a year ago before team president John Elway dispatched the team plane to New Orleans to bring Manning back to Denver and work out the details for this season.
But this time, Osweiler has shown he’s ready to take over, although Manning was needed to secure the regular-season finale against San Diego that locked up home field throughout the playoffs.
Playing with another team seems unlikely, although someone like the quarterback-hungry Houston Texans could present one last opportunity to play for a title contender.
More likely is Manning at some point becoming a team president, much like Elway.
His hometown Saints and the Tennessee Titans from the state where Manning played his college ball and is still revered are possibilities.
Or he could just enjoy being the best pitch man in sports and spending time with his family.
“I’ve not asked him about all of that,” Cooper said. “And I won’t unless he brings it up.
“It’s his call.”
But no matter what, the NFL’s career leader in both passing yardage and touchdown passes certainly doesn’t have to worry about his legacy.
That, as Cooper said, “is intact.”
Plus, as Cooper pointed out, that’s all down the road.
At hand is beating New England.
And while certainly the challenge the Patriots present is a large one, in a sense the opponent doesn’t matter to Payton so much as the fact that he’s back on the field instead of the sideline.
“Payton still loves the grind, all of the little things you have to do, the meetings, the practices and preparation and so on with the guys,” Cooper said. “He certainly didn’t enjoy being hurt.
“Now he’s getting a chance to have an impact in the AFC Championship Game. When you consider how it looked several weeks ago, you’d have to say it’s worked out pretty well.”
Just one thing would make it better.
And Peyton will get his chance to do that Sunday.