Peyton Manning looks to extend legacy, but others have their own agenda

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is engulfed in confetti

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is engulfed in confetti during the trophy presentation after Denver's AFC Championship Game win over visiting New England. (Jan. 19, 2014) (Credit: AP )

This was long before Peyton Manning knew he could make it back from a fourth neck surgery, at a time when his arm strength was just beginning to return but still wasn't nearly enough for him to throw in an NFL game.

It was about two years ago. Manning was visiting his parents' home in New Orleans and asked his dad if he'd play catch.

It's something the two had done countless times before when Peyton was growing up in the house of the Saints' quarterback. Archie would go into the yard and throw the ball around whenever he was asked by Peyton or his brothers, Cooper and Eli. "You couldn't count how many throws we had through the years," Archie said.



SUPER BOWL: Videos | Winning QBs | Biggest blunders | History
PHOTOS: The gameCelebs | Fans
STATS: Box score | Play-by-play | All-time leaders



But this time was much, much different. This time, there were doubts for both men whether one of the greatest quarterbacks in history would throw another NFL pass. But Peyton wanted to keep trying, so he begged his father to play.

"He was recruiting me to throw with him," Archie said.

Two things immediately crossed Archie's mind. He was delighted that Peyton was strong enough to even consider his dream of a comeback. But he didn't know if he was up to the challenge of catching his son's passes, even at a diminished velocity. "I said, 'I can't catch.' Then [Peyton] said, 'You've got to. I just have to go throw.' "

So they went to the indoor facility at Peyton's old high school, Isidore Newman, but not before Archie made a call to a trainer he knew who lived in the area. He told him to join them -- and to bring his son. "Somebody has to catch these balls,'' Archie said, "and it's not me."

And so continued Peyton's uncertain comeback, another in a series of steps that ultimately led him back to the league he had dominated through most of his run with the Colts before neck problems forced him to miss the entire 2011 season. "He threw OK that day," Archie said.

Neither man knew that day where this would all end, but here it is: Peyton Manning, who won his fifth NFL MVP Saturday, is one win away from completing his remarkable comeback with a Super Bowl championship.

Manning's Broncos face the Seahawks Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium -- another chance to enhance his Hall of Fame legacy by taking the field for his third Super Bowl.

It is an incredible journey by any measure, even by the lofty standards Manning himself created after entering the league in 1998 as the first draft choice. In the final years of his career -- he doesn't know when it will end, but has said he wants to keep playing as long as he's healthy -- there is a greater appreciation of all he's been through.

Manning will go up against one of the best defenses he has ever seen and a franchise trying to win its first Super Bowl. The Seahawks' Pete Carroll, once considered a failure as an NFL head coach after being fired by the Jets just one season into his tenure and then by the Patriots three years into his career in New England, has a chance to win his first Super Bowl title.

He will get that chance on the same plot of land where he experienced the lowest moment of his career. On Nov. 27, 1994, at Giants Stadium, Dan Marino's fake spike and subsequent touchdown pass near the end of a devastating 28-24 victory by the Dolphins sent Carroll's Jets into a tailspin from which they never recovered. They lost their final four games and finished at 6-10.

Carroll's firing led to the ill-fated Rich Kotite era, and the Jets won only four games in the next two seasons. But Carroll persevered, spending two seasons with the 49ers before taking over for Bill Parcells in New England in 1997 and then becoming a star college coach at USC.

Still, there was that burning desire to see if he could compete at his sport's highest level again, and the third time proved to be the charm. In his fourth season with the Seahawks, Carroll has created a team in his own image: hard-working, hyper-aggressive -- and not afraid to have fun.

It's no surprise, then, that all three of those traits can be found in Carroll's most magnetic player -- third-year cornerback Richard Sherman, who swatted away a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the NFC Championship Game and then launched himself into America's consciousness with a postgame rant for the ages.

Sherman, who was far more subdued in the aftermath of the trash-talking episode, now will resume his talking on the field and try to overcome Manning's brilliance in the offense vs. defense chess match that the game is expected to become.

Then there is Seattle's Russell Wilson, the magnificent second-year quarterback who plays with the poise of a veteran. He hopes to make the same kind of impression on the NFL as his older, more accomplished counterpart.

Wilson, who once met Manning at Peyton's passing camp during his high school days, now hopes to match wits -- and passes -- on the field in what figures to be a terrific matchup between the two best teams in the game.

May the greatness of the game reflect the brilliance of those playing and coaching in it.