Peyton Manning has always been a perfectionist; and until 2011, he had everything to show for it. After high school, he was the country’s No. 1 recruit; and after college, the draft’s No. 1 pick. Upon being snatched up by the Colts, he stepped into practice and immediately took on the role of starting quarterback. In his rookie season, he made the number to beat for five separate NFL rookie records. Over the next twelve years, Manning won the best NFL Player ESPY Award two years in a row, went to the Pro Bowl eleven times and was named MVP four times, once for the 2007 Superbowl where he led his team to victory. And then came the 2011 season.
In May, Manning underwent neck surgery, emerging weak and unable to fully throw the ball. After an MRI, doctors informed him he would need spinal fusion surgery. When Manning asked if he’d be able to return to the NFL after the procedure, his surgeons reported that at his age, they couldn’t guarantee it. After exploring his options, Manning agreed to the surgeries, which essentially put him out to pasture for the 2011 season, despite his contract extension with the Colts.
Many close to Manning were starting to wonder if he’d ever get back to the NFL. He was embarrassed to try to throw the ball in front of anyone; and when his wife gave birth to twins, he seemed a lot more interested in watching home movies instead of studying tapes of games past to get back into the groove. Ultimately, it was Manning’s wife, Ashley, who pushed him back into football, saying, “You’ve got to try.”
So Manning tried. But the Colts, holding the No. 1 draft pick with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck on the line, cut him from the team. Many who faced such an injury and came back only to be told they just weren’t as good as the fresh blood might have given up at that point, but not Manning. Within the next few days, he was in John Elway’s office as a free agent, and then signed to the Broncos to start in the 2012 season.
In his first game of the season, Manning proved that he was still worthy of his starting quarterback position. He threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns, one a 71-yard throw that solidified his first touchdown pass as a Bronco as well as his 400th career touchdown pass, making him only the third quarterback to have reached that benchmark behind Dan Marino and Brett Farve. Manning was named to his twelfth Pro Bowl and took the Broncos to the playoffs, only losing to the ultimate Superbowl 2012 winners, the Baltimore Ravens, in double overtime.
Now, with the 2013 season in full swing, Manning is still ramping it up, currently only three touchdown passes shy of the NFL season record held by Tom Brady at 50. Seven of those touchdowns were in the opening game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, which gave Manning the honor of being one of only two people to ever throw seven touchdown passes in a single game without an interception. And now, in tribute not only to this season but to his lifetime achievement in football, Sports Illustrated has titled him as their Sportsman of the Year for 2013.
Those who have watched Manning from high school to now certainly agree that there has been a lifetime of achievement in his career thus far. But those who know him also know that at age 37, Peyton Manning is far from being done.
By Marisa Corley