Peyton Manning on the Denver Broncos sideline during a preseason game on August 26, 2012. (Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons)
It is early evening as Superbowl 50 comes to a close. The Denver Broncos are on top of the world as the Carolina Panthers walk away in defeat. However in the midst of a 53 man team being crowned champions of the world, everyone is focused on only one man.
On March 7, Peyton Manning confirmed that his glorious Superbowl victory last month was the last time he would ever suit up in the NFL. He will be riding away into the sunset with 71,490 passing yards and 539 touchdowns, the most in NFL history.
Before going further, I should disclose that I did not like Peyton Manning. It was an extremely rarity where I would actually find myself rooting for him in a game. To make things worse, I am a lifelong Carolina Panthers fan who had the special opportunity to see Peyton’s bulging forehead and smiling face one last time as my livelihood was crushed.
Yet despite my longing hatred that has gotten significantly worse over the past month, I still feel obligated to pay my respect to one of the greatest men to ever throw a football.
When Manning was drafted by the Colts in 1998, he said his first course of action would be to study up and prepare himself for his rookie season. The next pick in the draft, Ryan Leaf, instantly proclaimed how he was ready to start celebrating.
Although nobody thought anything of it at the time, these two responses were almost cryptic as we flash forward to the present. The chapters of Ryan Leaf’s promising life involved four short years in the NFL followed by three arrests, burglary, and drug abuse and a name that triggers nightmares for the Chargers fans that watched his career cripple their team.
Peyton on the other hand has found himself sitting on a Hall of Fame career, millions of fans and and absurd amount of money in league contracts and various endorsements. Though there are certainly athletes that have gotten by mostly on talent, this comparison is a good indicator on just how important hard work and professionalism is. Beneath the annoying commercials, millions of dollars and one of a kind head-shape is a man who prepared himself to fullest in order to make sure he would succeed.
And man did it pay off for him. When I happened to watch Peyton as a kid with almost no football knowledge, I noticed one of the common themes in those games was him winning.
Years later, as I watched more closely, I then realized that there was a reason he was winning those games. He wasn’t gifted with incredible speed or a cannon for an arm, so he made up for it with extreme awareness and mental toughness to lead his team to victory.
In Spring of 2012, the Colts shocked the world by letting go of their longtime leader after he suffered a neck injury. They figured he would not fully recover from the injury and their best bet would be to move on.
After four seasons with the Denver Broncos, the most touchdowns in a single season and a Superbowl victory, it would seem that Manning’s work ethic was even underestimated by the group of people who knew him best.
Though I can’t say I enjoyed the ride very much, Peyton Manning finished his career in a style so fantastic that it makes fairytales seem realistic and grounded. His oversized forehead was the face of football and Sundays will feel surreal now that it is gone.