SANTA CLARA, Calif. - It is a perfect ending for a nearly perfect career, and now Peyton Manning has the chance to do what so few men in his profession get to experience.
But before the 39-year-old Broncos quarterback decides to walk off into his NFL sunset the way John Elway did after winning his second straight Super Bowl title after the 1998 season, Manning will heed the words of his old coach, newly minted Hall of Famer Tony Dungy.
“I got some good advice from Tony Dungy, who said, ‘Don’t make emotional decisions,’ ” Manning said a few minutes after the Broncos beat the Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night. “This has been an emotional week and emotional night.”
Besides, there were other priorities for Manning in the immediate term.
“I want to kiss my wife and kids first,” Manning said. “I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, I’ll promise you that. I’m going to thank the man upstairs for this opportunity.”
It was an opportunity no one could have imagined on the afternoon of Nov. 15, 2015, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Manning looked finished. He had thrown four interceptions against the Chiefs that day, and he was benched for the first time in his 18-year career. His young backup, Brock Osweiler, took over and looked as if he’d be up to the task of leading the Denver offense in place of his aging teammate.
But as it turned out, Manning’s problems were the direct result of a foot injury that severely limited his ability to throw. Still, who could have imagined all this when he went back in the lineup in the regular-season finale?
Manning’s foot finally had mended to the point that he became functional again — a quarterback who could be just good enough not to mess it up and to give the defense, which is the heart of this team, the chance to win games on its own.
Manning hardly was the dominant quarterback against the Panthers that he was during the peak of his career. In fact, his stats were downright mediocre — 13-for-23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 56.6 rating. But it was good enough to give his defense a chance to win it, and that’s exactly what happened.
Von Miller was to Manning what running back Terrell Davis was to Elway near the end of his career. Just as Davis’ presence gave Elway the running game he needed to finish off his Hall of Fame career with two straight championships, Miller gave Manning his chance to walk away on top.
Davis was Elway’s MVP and now Miller is Manning’s. The defensive end won the coveted individual award with 2½ sacks and two forced fumbles by Cam Newton that led to Denver touchdowns. There is no way Manning beats the Panthers with his arm, but there was no way he could lose with his defense playing this well.
Just as Elway decided at age 38 that it was over, Manning now faces his own football mortality. He’ll do as Dungy has counseled and reflect away from the raw emotion of winning his most unlikely Super Bowl title of all, but it’s hard to imagine Manning doing anything but the smart thing in this situation.
He is the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, surpassing Elway, and he now is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with a second team.
With Father Time continuing to bear down, the answer seems as obvious now as it will once Manning reflects after the postgame emotion has subsided:
It is time to walk away. After all, there can be no better ending than this.
Peyton Manning is the 12th quarterback with multiple Super Bowl wins. The QB ring leaders and their overall Super Bowl records:
Joe Montana 4-0
Terry Bradshaw 4-0
Tom Brady 4-2
Troy Aikman 3-0
Eli Manning 2-0
Jim Plunkett 2-0
Bart Starr 2-0
Bob Griese 2-1
Ben Roethlisberger 2-1
Peyton Manning 2-2
Roger Staubach 2-2
John Elway 2-4