Across America this week, the burning question has been WWPD — What will Peyton do?
But even though local fitness guru Mackie Shilstone is among the most qualified to make an educated guess on whether Sunday’s Super Bowl will be Peyton Manning’s final game, he’s holding back.
“All I know is that he told me that once the dust settles after the season, we’ll talk about what he’s going to do about moving forward,” Shilstone said. “Usually an athlete wants to play for as long as he enjoys the game and it doesn’t hurt.
“But Peyton’s always going to make up his own mind. Right now, his vision is it’s been all year — getting his team to the Super Bowl.”
It was Shilstone who this time last year started working with Manning to determine if he would be coming back for an 18th NFL season.
Although the Shilstone was an Uptown neighbor of Archie Manning, and thus Peyton’s during his youth, the two had never had a professional relationship.
But with Manning’s career in doubt after a torn quad plus shoulder problems as a result of the neck surgery that cost him the 2011 season and ultimately ended time with the Indianapolis Colts after 15 years, Peyton came home to consult with someone whose specialty has been extending the careers of athletes like Ozzie Smith, Bernard Hopkins, and, more recently Serena Williams.
Manning’s 2014 season had ended with a desultory loss to those Colts in the AFC divisional playoffs. Manning looked so bad that many speculated that one of the greatest careers in NFL history was at an end.
But after a through physical and physiological evaluation by Shilstone that took almost a month, Manning did come back for another season in Denver, but with adjustments made to his throwing motion designed to lessen the wear and tear on his shoulder.
“He helped me out a lot,” Manning said of Shilstone this week. “It was a combination of trying to prevent further injury as well as some good hard-core training.”
To Shilstone, Manning was the perfect subject.
“One of the great advantages of working with someone like Peyton is his innate ability to size up a defense and what it takes to become to successful against it,” he said. “Peyton is a master of studying a problem, then applying it, but also in the course of battle being able to deviate.”
In this case, an odd-looking 4-inches high, 4-inches wide and four foot long that Shilstone calls a balance beam played a vital role.
It was Shilstone’s theory that when throwing, Manning was relying too much on shoulder strength and not using his hips to help provide the power.
“In Peyton’s case, because of his neck condition his shoulder is going to wear out before his hips,” Shilstone said. “One of his assets is his height (6-foot-5), but it’s also a weakness because when you’re throwing from a high position it’s not your best center of gravity and you’re not leveraging your power.”
So using the balance beam in their workouts at Newman, Shilstone got Manning to concentrate on bending his knees lest he fall off (And he did a few times, with no harm done).
“There was one day after he’d run six 330s, Peyton looked over at me and said, ‘Do you think I can do this?’ Shilstone said. “I said, ‘Peyton, I don’t think. I know you can.”
The end result was that while Manning looks more like he’s shot putting these days than relying on the arm strength, which help make him the league’s career yardage and touchdown pass leader among other accomplishments, he and the Broncos have been able to adjust to his throwing shorter routes while avoiding shoulder problems.
Manning even took the balance beam back to Denver with him to help remind him of his proper technique.
As we all know though, it didn’t come easily.
Manning began the season trying to adjust to new coach Gary Kubiak’s desire for him to play more under center and to roll out rather than always taking straight drop backs.
The result was painful to watch, even though the Broncos were winning.
Eventually Manning developed a torn plantar fascia and was benched for six weeks behind Brock Osweiler.
He returned to guide the Broncos to a come-from-behind victory against San Diego in the regular-season finale that earned Denver home-field throughout the playoffs. And since then, although Manning’s numbers aren’t spectacular, with the help of the NFL’s top defense Denver has beaten Pittsburgh and New England to earn its second Super Bowl berth in the last three years.
“Peyton came back healed, and, in the meantime, Denver adjusted the offense to play to his strengths,” Shilstone said. “Before the injury, people didn’t get to see the real Peyton Manning.
“But look at what’s happened now.”
Is this, as consensus opinion goes, it for Manning though?
“Other than the foot injury, which has healed, I haven’t seen much trauma for Peyton this season,” Shilstone said. “But you can’t discount the pounding a season of football can take and whether Peyton wants another year of it.
“I’d like to think we started this dance together a year ago, and we’ll end it the same way. Then again, I’ll probably read about it before he ever talks to me.”