NEW ORLEANS — Peyton Manning won the award he said no NFL player wants Saturday.
But he missed out on the one that would have further cemented his name in NFL history.
Manning received the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year Award, commemorating his return after missing the 2011 season with a neck injury to quarterback a new team, the Denver Broncos, to a 13-3 record and the AFC West championship.
However, the Most Valuable Player Award went to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who made his own comeback from injury to lead the Vikings into the playoffs and come within nine yards of the league’s single-season rushing record.
Manning, who sat with his brother, Eli, and their father, Archie, in the front row of the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Super Bowl Eve in his hometown, is the only four-time MVP.
No official vote totals were released, but it was widely assumed that the award would come down to Manning and Peterson.
“Peyton and I are definitely two guys determined with strong will power,” said Peterson, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the final game of the 2011 season. “It didn’t surprise me that he came back like he did.
“I could look in his eyes and knew he meant business. I’d say we inspired each other.”
Manning talked about how grateful he was to be back on the playing field when, at age 36, it appeared that his career could be in jeopardy. He had four procedures on his neck in 2011, after which he was released by Indianapolis, which had made him the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, and signed with Denver.
“I’m back playing the game of football, which I love so much,” he said. “It’s not just the games, but being with my teammates, working through the offseason and then preparing during the week.
“It was a mental and physical challenge. But I knew no matter what, I had already left everything I had out on the field.”
Peyton Manning added he now has no set length for the rest of his career.
“When you get to my age, you never know,” he said. “When I can’t be as competitive as I am now and not enjoy as much, then it will be time.
“But I still have passion and enjoyment for this game.”
Manning also received the Fed-Ex Air Player of the Year award, while Peterson won ground version of he award along with being named the AP Offensive Player of the Year.
Another player with local ties — Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Griffin’s parents, Robert II and Jacqueline Griffin, grew up in New Orleans before making their careers in the Army.
The Heisman Trophy winner last year at Baylor, RGIII led the Redskins to the NFC East title, the team’s first since 1999.
Saturday marked his first public appearance since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth quarter of Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle.
“It’s a blessing to be able to stand up here,” said Griffin, who had surgery in Pensacola, Fla., two days after the playoff loss. “It’s a blessing for me to be standing anywhere.”