Now that The Sheriff has officially handed in his badge and rode off into the sunset, what should we make of the career of Peyton Williams Manning? The Colts and Broncos quarterback defied injury, doubters and haters on his way to ending his career in the best way possible – with a Super Bowl win at the hands of the hottest team in the league. The NFL will rarely see his type again and, since his introduction in 1998, there have been many highs and lows to reflect on.
The stats speak for themselves when you talk about the legendary quarterbacks. five MVPs, two Super Bowl championships, four-time AFC champion, 14 Pro Bowl appearances, record passing yards and record touchdown passes. His appearances on Saturday Night Live and multiple Papa John commercials transitioned him from big-foreheaded footballer to lovable pop culture icon and over the course of his career there haven't been many inside the game who have much of a bad word to say about Peyton.
The son of Archie and brother to Eli has the game in his blood. The Colts snapped up the Tennessee College product as the number one overall pick in the 1998 Draft and not a day goes by that they regret that decision. Combine his passing prowess, leadership qualities, public speaking persona, ambassador as an NFL athlete and philanthropic ventures and people would be right to conclude that the sport has been richer for his involvement.
However, like all individuals of high profile, he had skeletons in his closet that remain a scandal even post retirement. The sexual harassment and HGH sagas are ongoing and given his reputation, the possibility of litigation could provide an ugly outcome for Manning. Throw in a last season that was less-than-spectacular on a personal level and shameless beer plugs for his glorious moment and all of a sudden the overall picture doesn’t look as rosy as it should have been.
Peyton’s 18 years in the sport gave us a lot to love, a lot to cringe over and a lot to consider. These are the 10 best and 10 worst moments of the NFL career of Peyton Manning.
21 1998 Draft
The number one pick in the 1998 NFL Draft was highly contentious and involved two quarterback’s whose journeys would transition into completely different paths. According to reports from that class, agent Leigh Steinberg went public to state that Ryan Leaf, a man who would only be in the NFL for four years until drug possession and burglary put him behind bars, deliberately manipulated his ranking to allow Peyton to go to the Colts as the number one overall pick. But back in 1998 Leaf versus Manning was a genuine debate and Indianapolis and Peyton enjoyed one of the best relationships in football.
20 2003 Tampa Bay Comeback
This game entrenched Peyton Manning as an elite operator in the sport. Ever since this moment, so long as it was mathematically possible, the QB had the confidence to bring back his team from the dead. In 2003, the Colts found themselves down 35-14 to the imposing Bucs, courtesy of a pick from Peyton that led to a touchdown for Ronde Barber. But a 90-yard return followed by a 28-yard pass to Marvin Harrison late in the 4th cut the deficit. The game was tied with 35 seconds left and went The Colts went on to win in OT from a 29-yard Mike Vanderjagt field goal. Peyton’s class was all over that encounter and it would be a sign of things to come.
19 2004 Playoffs Broncos Win
How the narrative would change between Peyton and the Denver Broncos in seasons to come. But back in the 2004 Wildcard Playoff game between them and the Colts, the QB arguably played the perfect game of football. It was the best way possible to break his playoff drought, completing 22 of his 26 throws for 377 yards and five touchdowns. The 41-10 demolition wouldn’t be enough of a springboard to beat Brady’s Patriots that season, but it put down a marker for what he could do in the postseason.
18 2006 AFC Championship Game
Down 21-3 against his nemesis Tom Brady in the AFC championship game, it appeared the poster boy from Boston would once again take the spoils. And although Peyton only ended up completing 27 of his 47 passes that night, his 349 yards included a 76-yard drive through six decisive plays that would tie the game at 21-21. This followed another 76-yarder that ended with a Peyton one-yard sneak TD. The 38-34 win was reward for persisting with the game plan and trusting in the QB to get the job done. “I didn’t get any monekys off my back,” asserted Manning after the win. “I don’t play that card. I know how hard I worked this season.”
17 2007 Super Bowl XLI Win
No QB or any player for that matter can truly be considered in the pantheon of greats until they lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It is the pinnacle of the sport and with nine years of experience in the NFL, Peyton was ready to take his Colts all the way. It was wet and wild in Florida when the Colts ran into the Chicago Bears at SB XLI and it would be Peyton who held his nerve in the tough conditions to go 25 of 38 for 247 yards with one crucial TD that got them over the line, for a 29-17 victory. It was the complete confirmation of the Colts choice to pick him at number one and would be the culmination of tremendous form leading into the big game.
16 2013 Single-Season NFL QB Record
The huge move from Indianapolis from Denver changed the NFL landscape, but inconsistent performances and injuries hampered his first year in Denver. Then, in 2013, the Broncos organization rested easy knowing that they made the right choice, with the QB beating his own previous record in 2004, then beating Brady and Dan Marino to throw 55 touchdowns in a single campaign. After shoulder surgery in 2011m this was thought to be well beyond him and given the fact the Broncos weren’t world-beaters by this stage, the single-season TD record is an incredible achievement.
15 Surpassing Brett Favre in 2014
The longer his career went on, the more the history books were torn up and rewritten. By the 2014 season, Brett Favre's record amount of TDs was getting closer to him and when the Broncos came up against the San Francisco 49ers, the writing was on the wall. Peyton broke the 509 barrier before halftime in the 42-17 demolition and Favre only had goodwill and congratulations to pass on after the game. Peyton explained, “Well it’s quite an honor … It’s very humbling. It’s taken a lot of hard work. A lot of people have helped me to this point.” Whatever you think of Manning, he always spoke a good game and deflected away from his personal achievements.
14 2016 AFC Championship Game
Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, just for old times sake. NFL fans were treated to a finale of sorts when the best quarterbacks of their generation came head-to-head when the Broncos confronted the Patriots on home turf to see who would go to SB50. Virtually written-off as past it and coming against the hardest unit in modern football, the 20-18 win for Manning defied the critics and was a lesson in defense. Peyton only made 17 of 32 passes, but Brady was sacked four times and went 27 for 56. Brady ended with a superior head-to-head overall, yet it was Peyton who would end on the biggest of highs.
The comparisons were drawn with Broncos legend John Elway. Two great quarterbacks, two experienced heads with a lot to lose. Both put up ordinary numbers in their last season. Both ended up with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. For Super Bowl 50, Manning went 13-for-23 with 141 yards, an interception and no touchdowns. In Super Bowl XXXII, Elway went 12-for-22, 123 yards, an interception and no touchdowns. All anyone talked about afterwards was Cam Newton crumbling under the Broncos defense, Peyton plugging a certain product and Beyonce. The 2015 season was way below what Manning was capable but when it was all said and done, he was the one with the prize.
He soaked up the Super Bowl for a few weeks, spent some time with family and enjoyed the moment. Then, without much fuss, he fronted a press conference to calmly call it a day in the most dignified of fashions. “I want to thank a tremendous group of friends who have supported my football career and been at my side from high school to Tennessee, Indy and through that incredible Broncos Super Bowl win last month,” explained Peyton at a gathered press conference. “You know who you are and what you mean to me.” With his loving thanks to family, friends and colleagues alike, that was that. The end had come and he could not have scripted the finale any better.
10 1998 Jets Trouncing
It would not be the last time Manning would be embarrassed by the maligned Big Apple franchise, but the September 20th meeting in 1998 between the Colts and Jets ended up being a baptism of fire for the rookie QB. The 44-6 demolition made Peyton look second rate, as only made 20 of his 44 passes without a TD and a couple of interceptions to add insult to injury. Even the greats regularly fail to hit the ground running and maybe it should be cause for fans to pause when a young player stumbles at first, because Peyton Manning was anything but spectacular when he started.
9 2000 Titans Playoff Loss
In 2000, LA Times writer Steve Springer went into great detail about the Tennessee Titans 19-16 shock playoff win against the Colts, outlining what it meant to the franchise. “The team that nobody wanted, the team few took seriously.” I guess the more things change in the NFL, the more they stay the same. In his first every experience of post season football, Peyton threw 19 of 42 passes for 227 yards with a single rushing TD. Very rarely did Manning go into a playoff game as the underdog and even with a lack of history in 2000, the Colts were heavily favored to brush past the Titans.
8 2001 Patriots Loss
When 9/11 hit, the last thing people were really thinking about was football. But the show had to go on and fortunately for the people of Boston, Tom Brady was thrown in for his first career start at Foxboro Stadium. The 44-13 win for the Patriots over the Colts was a sign of things to come and while Brady didn’t win the game off his own 168 passing yards, the power axis was tilting as Peyton was limited to 196 yards and three interceptions, two of which ended in touchdowns.
7 2004 Patriots Loss
Amazing how fortunes can turn when great quarterbacks collide in January. There are many great chapters in the Patriots and Colts rivalry, best captured by the performances of their leaders Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. But in 2004 it was to be the Patriots day, targeting the QB with three sacks to have him finish with 23 of 47 passing for 237 yards and a single touchdown, to go along with four picks. The 24-14 defeat ended with the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the Boston franchise. A bad day at the office.
6 Tracy Porter’s Pick 6
Miami Gardens was the perfect setting for a classic Super Bowl showdown between Manning’s Colts and Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints. With Peyton’s team taking the smallest of leads into the 4th quarter at 17-16, everything was set for an epic finale. But the Colts crumbled, and gave up 15 unanswered points in the last five minutes. Seven of those points came off a poor throw by Manning which resulted in a 74 yard pick six by Tracy Porter, putting the Saints ahead 31-17. The Saints ended Super Bowl XLIV with the Vince Lombardi Trophy while Peyton was left to reflect on the gravest of errors.
5 Seahawks Super Bowl Smashing
Super Bowl XLVIII was supposed to be the moment where Peyton would entrench himself in Broncos folklore, but ended up running into a Seattle Seahawks-sized steam train. The 43-8 belting at MetLife Stadium was visibly heading one way with a convincing 22-0 lead at halftime. Manning went 34 of 49 passes with just one touchdown and two picks, one of which was a pick six straight to Malcolm Smith. The defensive dominance allowed Russell Wilson to score two TDs himself and take complete control of the game . It felt like a changing of the guard and somehow made Super Bowl 50 all the more remarkable.
4 2015 Kansas City Loss
One of the great things about Peyton was his desire to push through the pain barrier to be there for his team. And one of the worst things about Peyton was, well, the exact same thing. His decision to suit up against a Kansas City Chiefs outfit on a roll leading into the playoffs last season ended in utter humiliation. On the road in Denver, the Chiefs raced out to a 29-0 lead and, despite not scoring any more points, they saw the contest out comfortably. This was at the peak of people writing off Manning, whose four interceptions and a pitiful 35 yards outlined that he couldn’t be the dominant force he used to be.
3 Budweiser Plugs
He had just capped off the fairy tale win – the happiest of endings on a golden night. The pinnacle of his football career, worth all the blood, sweat and tears. When the camera crew came in to get a word after SB50, would he be overcome with emotion? What was running through his head? “I’m gonna drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy.” Wait, what? No less than three different times Peyton plugged the brand and shortly after it was revealed that he actually has a stake in Anheuser-Busch InBev wholesalers in Louisiana, Peyton showed his true colors. It is actually against NFL rules to promote alcohol as an active player, so it also gave away the worst kept secret in sports. No one has an issue with athletes endorsing products to make cash, but at that moment and with that particular brand? Poor form.
2 Sexual Harassment Scandal
The details are damning and not befitting a legend of a sport, let alone a respected member of society. Back in 1996 as a junior at the University of Tennessee, the eventual Papa John’s spokesperson and face of the NFL dropped his pants and exposed him bare backside and privates into the face of female trainer Jamie Ann Naughright as she was treating his foot. The court deposition from Naughright went into unsavory detail about the incident before saying that, “To get leverage, I took my head out to push him up and off.” UT sent Manning to eat away from the athletic dining room and made him do two weeks of 6 am runs, but it was more or less shrugged off as a “boys will be boys” issue.
1 HGH Scandal
Rarely will a documentary aired on a Middle Eastern television news station open a scandal involving an NFL star, but these are different times. The infamous Al Jazeera program The Dark Side alleged that Peyton had a human growth hormone (HGH) shipped to his house using his wife’s name as cover in 2011. Manning continues to deny any wrongdoing and now that he’s retired he has removed the possibility of having to cooperate with the NFL because he is no longer an employee of a franchise under their banner. It is not often a legend will hang up the helmet after a stunning Super Bowl upset win and still retire amid a cloud of controversy.
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