SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Peyton Manning hasn’t said publicly whether he will retire after Super Bowl 50, and apparently he hasn’t said it privately, either. But in an emotional speech to his teammates the night before his Broncos beat the Panthers, 24-10, in what could have been his last game, Manning was “near tears,” according to an ESPN report quoting team president Joe Ellis.
“Peyton told a few jokes to lighten the mood, but then he got very emotional [when talking about what the game meant to him],” Ellis said. “And so did DeMarcus [Ware]. The room was silent. It was a very emotional gathering.”
Manning reportedly didn’t tell the players about his intentions for the future, but the indications certainly point in the direction of retirement. He said during several interviews during the week that he is not ready to publicly declare whether he’s about to retire. But he did admit that his conversation with Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady after the AFC Championship Game two weeks ago, in which he said this could be his “last rodeo,” was a way of saying that if he doesn’t play again, he wanted to tell them how much he has respected competing against them over the years.
It is uncertain when Manning might announce his intentions. Last year, after losing to the Colts in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, he took several weeks before announcing that he would play in 2015. He worked with personal trainer Mackie Shilstone in New Orleans on a vigorous regimen after the season, in part because a thigh injury had limited his effectiveness during the second half of the 2014 season.
Manning suffered a foot injury halfway through the 2015 season and missed six games before returning in the regular-season finale (he replaced Brock Osweiler) against San Diego in a 27-20 win in Denver. The win secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and proved to be a deciding factor in the team’s win over the Patriots in the conference championship game.
Manning has said throughout the season, especially toward the end once he got back from the foot injury, that he is “staying in the moment” and “taking it week by week.” He also said he is making sure the “cerebral part of the game” remains a high priority.
“I think as a quarterback, it’s your job to prepare to have an appreciation and respect for the cerebral part of the game, try to find some type of edge, and for me, I’ve always tried to find some type of edge from the cerebral part as a student of the game,” he said. “I think that has been pretty consistent throughout my career, but I think you have to be able to adjust based on who you’re playing with, based on the head coach that you’re playing for, the system that you’re in. I’ve played 18 years, played for five different head coaches, I played a couple of systems with a lot of different teammates and I think the fact that I’ve been flexible, been willing to learn new things, try new things, take different styles of coaching, I think that has helped me.”
Now it’s a matter of whether Manning plays a 19th season for perhaps a different head coach — if the Broncos are ready to move on from their future Hall of Fame quarterback. Even if he wants to keep playing.