Like his boss, Peyton Manning probably has no remaining football goals, other than to go out winning his second Super Bowl.
But unlike John Elway, he won’t achieve it.
That was painfully obvious in Denver’s 24-13 playoff loss to Indianapolis on Sunday.
The greatest football player ever to come out of Louisiana, the five-time MVP who is arguably the best ever at his position and who was just a season removed from setting NFL records for yards and touchdowns in a season, looked every bit of his 38 years, unable to deliver the precision passes that have been his trademark throughout a 17-year career.
Part of it was a torn right quad he has been dealing with for the past month, an injury more serious than had been previously reported and one that had him dealing with pain on every snap.
“He has not been healthy,” a source close to the situation said Monday.
But the bigger part of Manning’s problem was Father Time, the undefeated challenger of every athlete.
No doubt Drew Brees, who turns 36 on Thursday, was taking notes Sunday.
It’s worth nothing that the last quarterback older than 35 to win a Super Bowl was Elway.
Tom Brady certainly could break that streak this year. But his last title came a decade ago, when he was 28. Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, Manning’s successor at Indianapolis, are 26 and 25. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is 31, but since he sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons, he’s only 28 in football years.
The position is getting younger, and Peyton, who was 30 when he won his title, isn’t.
Still, he deserved better than what happened Sunday.
The ungrateful Denver fans booed him — not at the end of the game, when that might have been rude but understandable, but in the first half, which ended with the Broncos trailing only 14-10.
This was only the player who led a fading franchise to three straight AFC West titles and last year’s Super Bowl, an achievement not seen in the Mile High City since 1998, Elway’s last season and Manning’s first.
And, if Peyton bothered to go out and fetch the morning paper Monday, he would have read Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla stating flatly, “He’s done.”
Probably true. But still, that’s got to sting, along with all of the other requiems being delivered his way this morning.
“He doesn’t read that stuff,” the source said.
Maybe. But this is a player who seemingly remembers every media person he has ever spoken with. Not what they wrote or said, but our names.
Regardless, Peyton doesn’t need us to tell him what he knows about his own body. By the time he had five procedures on his neck in 2011, which cost him a season and led to his departure from Indianapolis after 14 seasons, he probably could have performed the surgery himself.
Such is the most beautiful mind the game has ever seen.
But on Sunday, Manning couldn’t give a direct answer about returning.
“I have to process that,” he said.
And that’s what he’s doing right now, the source said.
“He plans to take his time and just analyze everything,” the source said. “There’s no way of knowing how long. There are lots of factors.”
One of them was clarified Monday when the Broncos and coach John Fox parted ways.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, a former LSU assistant who is close to Manning, is considered among the leaders to replace Fox, but the source said that will not make a difference in Manning’s final decision.
That sounds very much like it has been made, although the source insists it hasn’t.
If Peyton is done, he leaves an outstanding body of work.
So what if he won only one Super Bowl? Lots of great ones won zero.
No doubt Peyton’s prepared for life after football as well.
Coaching seems unlikely, but the Tennessee Titans may be for sale, and Manning has been linked to a potential ownership group. Running a team in the state where he gained collegiate fame seems very attractive.
Or he could name his price and go into broadcasting.
Or he could just enjoy being with his family for a while and concentrate on his PeyBack Foundation, which has donated more than $10 million to worthy organizations in Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado.
Maybe he’ll move back to New Orleans and be a volunteer assistant for old Newman teammate Nelson Stewart. That would be nice.
What seems impossible is Manning in another uniform next season. Surely he won’t go out like Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas did.
Peyton probably doesn’t need the money. In case he does, there has never been a better athletic pitchman. Who else could make Buick and Papa John’s seem cool?
And deep down, he probably knows what has to be done.
At some point soon, Peyton will have a long talk with Elway, now Broncos executive vice president of football operations and the man who brought him to Denver.
“He’s 38, and he’s a strong person,” the source said. “He will make a good decision.”
A career like this deserves to end better. Unfortunately, they just don’t, though.
Follow Ted Lewis on Twitter: @LewisAdvocate