Peyton’s Last “Omaha”

There is just something about 18 years. Eighteen is a good number and today I retire from pro football.”

On March 7, 2016 Peyton Manning announced his retirement. During the emotional press conference in which teammates, Mr. Manning thanked a laundry list of people, organizations and cities for being a part of his Hall of Fame career. He expressed love and gratitude for his family, the fans, and the game itself, stating I revere football, I love the game. So you don’t have to wonder if I’ll miss it. Absolutely I will.”

Peyton is unquestionably one of the game’s most prolific passers. He leaves the game having amassed 71,490 passing yards and 539 touchdowns, both all-time records. Coupled with a 65.3 percent career completion percentage and only 251 career interceptions, Manning’s career passer rating of 96.5 places him fifth best overall. A few other all-time records that Manning holds are:

> Most passing yards in a season: 5,477 (2013)

> Single season touchdown record: 55 (2013)

> Most wins (including playoffs): 200

> Most games (5) with a perfect passer rating

> Most passing touchdowns in a single game with 7 (2013)

> Most game-winning drives with 56

This list is far from exhaustive. The five-time NFL MVP (also a record) has more game-winning drives (56) and comeback wins (45) than anyone to play to the game. His eighteen seasons in a league where the average player’s career length is 3.3 years is a testament to his longevity and his ability to maintain a high level of effectiveness through injury.

There were other players who were more talented but there was no one who could out-prepare me and because of that I have no regrets.”

Having been born into a family of what can be considered football royalty, Manning quickly dispelled any sense of favoritism with his almost mythical work ethic. During his fourteen years as an Indianapolis Colt and four as a Denver Bronco, Peyton was renowned for his preparation. The thousands of hours spent in the film room served to bolster his ability to read opponents defenses and to exploit them. He led by example, and his drive for constant improvement would serve to motivate his teammates to improve themselves on and off the field.

His work ethic was rivaled only by perhaps four time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and their mutual respect was apparent after the Broncos win over the Patriots in this year’s AFC Championship, when the two shook hands and embraced. Manning has said that one of the things he will miss is “that handshake with Tom Brady.” It comes as no surprise then that the New England quarterback was one of the people Peyton personally informed of his decision to hang up his helmet for good.

He is also one of the NFL’s most respected players and all time great ambassadors. His All-American demeanor have served both the game and his bank account well. The NFL is dominated by quarterbacks, who not only touch the ball every offensive play (sans punts and field attempts), but most often serve as the main representatives of their teams and thus the League. Since Manning’s rookie year in 1998, NFL revenue has grown from just over $3 billion to just over $13 billion in 2015. He is not the only reason for this stellar growth, but his performance and personality have definitely helped. His numerous sponsorships with Buick, Nationwide, Papa John’s, Gatorade, and DirecTV , as well as well received stints on Saturday Night Live showcase his marketability.

Few great athletes are immune to controversy: Tom Brady bears the burden of the the awfully named “Deflategate”; Tiger Woods must always live with his marital infidelities; Michael Jordan’s allegations of gambling problems. Peyton, who has masterfully cultivated an “aw shucks” persona throughout his career, is no different. He has had to deal with allegations that he took HGH to deal with his serious neck injury as well as a lawsuit regarding sexual misconduct towards a physical therapist during his time at the University of Tennessee. He has denied both and during his time on the podium responded to them by saying, “I did not do what has been alleged… And kind of like my dad used to say when I was in trouble, ‘I can’t say it any plainer than that. So this is a joyous day, it’s a special day and as a Forrest Gump said, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’” Though he did have one last thing to say at the end of his speech: “Omaha.”

Where does this leave Peyton’s legacy? He will most definitely be inducted into the Hall of Fame in five years. And he will most likely continue participating in Papa John’s commercials and whistling the Nationwide tune to millions of sports viewers. Maybe he will join Brett Favre hawking Copper Fit products the chronically injured, though that is doubtful. With his cerebral ability to break down defenses it is not a stretch to predict he will return to the game not unlike Denver Bronco manager and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway as a front office presence. Regardless of the path he chooses, Peyton Manning will be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks that has ever played the game. And if that is the only thing he is remembered for, he will be content.

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