SANTA CLARA, Calif. —Peyton Manning knew Ken Stabler pretty well.
Stabler, the Oakland Raiders great who eventually succeeded Manning’s father, Archie, as the starter in New Orleans, died last summer, and the news broke Wednesday morning that Stabler was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly called CTE, the degenerative brain disease that has been linked to repeated blows to the head.
Manning found out the news in his morning news conference.
“It is the first I have heard about that on Ken Stabler,” Manning said. “All I can say about that is, Ken Stabler was a friend of my dad. I got to know him fairly well over the past years. And the NFL quarterback fraternity lost a great one, lost a legend, when we lost ‘The Snake.’”
Manning reached out to Stabler’s family when the quarterback great died of colon cancer in July to offer his condolences.
A student of the game who has said in the past that he tries to learn whatever he can about the quarterbacks of the past, Manning said he enjoyed his relationship with Stabler.
“What a prince of a guy,” Manning said. “What a great leader. I have heard John Madden talk about him a number of times. He truly was one of a kind.”
No end in sight
A dozen times this week, in a dozen different ways, somebody has asked Peyton Manning if he plans to retire after this Super Bowl.
Now it’s Eli’s turn to talk about the end of his career.
The New York Giants quarterback made his first public appearance of the week at a FedEx Cares event announcing a new charitable initiative Wednesday, and in the mob of reporters who waylaid him after the interview, Eli Manning was asked if he’s thought about when he might hang them up.
At 35 years old — Peyton is 39 — Eli doesn’t really see the end in sight yet.
“I feel great, I feel very healthy,” Eli said. “I feel like I have my best football ahead of me, I feel like I can play at an extremely high level. For the last two or three years, I’ve been saying I’ve got five more years in me, and I still feel like I’ve got five more years in me. I guess I’ll keep playing until I don’t feel like I have any more.”
Panthers defensive back Roman Harper and Saints running back Mark Ingram always had a special connection.
A pair of Alabama graduates who landed in New Orleans four years apart, Harper and Ingram had plenty in common.
Enough that Harper considers Ingram family.
“Mark Ingram, playing with him in New Orleans all those years, he’s like a little brother to me,” Harper said.
Harper and Ingram talk every couple of weeks, checking in on each other’s families, offering encouragement.
And Harper thinks Ingram was better than ever before going down with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder with four weeks to play.
“He was having a great year,” Harper said. “I told him this past year, he’s faster, he looks quicker.”
Ingram emerged as one of the league’s better all-around backs in 2015, racking up 769 rushing yards and 50 catches for 405 yards as a receiver before the injury.
Harper isn’t surprised. The veteran safety thinks Ingram will just keep getting better.
“He’s just got to continue to grind it out,” Harper said. “He’s been great, and there’s no reason for him to let off the pedal or think he’s anything less than that.”
In New Orleans, the Saints are hoping to cash in on Vick Ballard’s upside.
New Orleans signed the running to a reserve/future contract Wednesday, likely with the hope Ballard can overcome the injuries that have plagued him since a promising rookie season.
In 2012, Ballard logged 966 yards from scrimmage for the Colts as a rookie. But he has played in only one game since. Injuries to his ACL and Achilles wiped out his 2013 and 2014 seasons, and he was waived/injured last season.
New Orleans had similar success last season by taking a flier on Tim Hightower, who saw his career derailed by injuries. He rushed for 375 yards over eight games with the Saints last season.