Peyton Manning insists he hasn’t decided whether Super Bowl 50 will be his last game, nor have the people closest to him indicated that the Broncos’ quarterback plans to call it a career no matter what happens against the Panthers on Feb. 7.
But Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champion who will help Peyton in the run-up to the big game, looks at his older brother’s decision just like the rest of us do.
“I think like everybody else, where you see this as possibly being the last game,” the Giants’ quarterback said Wednesday on a conference call from Hawaii, where he is set to play in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “I don’t know if he knows himself, or if he’s thought about it. When you get to year 19 and deal with some injuries and things going on, it’d be a good way to go out. Because of that possibility, I hope he can win this game, and if he decides to hang it up, go out on top.”
And there you have it. Even Eli thinks this most likely will be it for his 39-year-old brother. Hopefully, Peyton will feel the same way, because there is really no better time than now to retire. Even if Manning were to lose to the favored Panthers and rising young quarterback Cam Newton, it’s still the better alternative than to hang around for one more season, in Denver or somewhere else.
And make no mistake: Eli believes Peyton’s legacy won’t be defined by the outcome of next week’s game.
“Peyton, his impact on the game of football, will not be determined based off this one game,” Eli said. “He’s kind of changed the game, and the no-huddle offense they had in Indianapolis for so long, and doing things at the line of scrimmage, and changing plays and getting out of bad plays and getting into good plays. He’s got five MVPs and Super Bowl appearances and won a lot of football games, thrown a lot of touchdowns, and he’s played at a high level for a long, long time. I hope he can win, but his impact has already been made.’’
Eli will be in Santa Clara, California, with his parents, Archie, the former Saints quarterback, and Olivia, and his older brother Cooper, a former college receiver whose career was cut short because of a neck condition. Eli can’t wait to see the conclusion to Peyton’s season, which has been by far the most unique of his career. He struggled — nine touchdown passes, 17 interceptions — before a foot injury forced him out of the lineup.
But through unusual circumstances, Manning finds himself back as the starter and one win away from the rare feat of going out on top. It’s something only a handful of NFL players, including former Broncos quarterback John Elway, now the team’s vice president of football operations, get to experience.
“I’m excited for him. I know this has been an interesting year for him,” Eli said. “From a new coach [Gary Kubiak] to a new offense and trying to learn that, dealing with an injury, having to sit out for seven weeks—he’s never gone through that before. Kind of coming back as a backup, he’s never done that before. Just excited for him. I’m sure once the game gets there, yeah, I usually get a little nervous. Just rooting for him and want the best for him.”
Eli and Peyton already have talked about the Panthers’ defense. In a wild game at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 20, the Giants overcame a 35-7 second-half deficit to tie Carolina in the final minute. But Graham Gano’s 43-yard field goal as time expired gave the Panthers a 38-35 win.
“If he has any questions for whatever reason,” Eli said, “I’m happy to give him my thoughts and my two cents on their scheme, on their players that I observed.”
Eli said he also will help Peyton deal with the inevitable barrage of ticket requests, a courtesy Peyton extended in Eli’s Super Bowl appearances after the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Whatever the outcome, Eli will take away plenty from watching Peyton deal with the adversity he has faced this season. Those challenges included the negative publicity surrounding an Al Jazeera report last month that Manning used HGH in 2011 to recover from a series of neck surgeries. The NFL, which banned HGH in 2011, said it is conducting a thorough investigation of the report, which also implicates several other NFL and Major League Baseball players. Peyton vigorously denied the report and said he never used HGH.
“I think I’m just proud of the way he’s handled the whole situation this year — injury and missing time and coming back and being prepared for any situation or circumstance to come up when he gets in the game,” said Eli, who was not asked about the report or investigation on Wednesday’s call. He said last month that he supports Peyton and believes his version of events.
“He didn’t know how this season was going to play out or if he would play again this season,” Eli said. “I’m proud of the way he’s played in the playoff games and making plays to win the game.”
With one more win, pride will turn into jubilation.