SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 4, 2016) – A skeptical media has listened as Peyton Manning has deflected speculation, day after day, that Sunday’s appearance in Super Bowl 50 is the final step in his 18-year NFL journey that began with the Indianapolis Colts and ends with the Denver Broncos.
Listen to the man no one wants to believe.
“I haven’t really made up my mind,’’ Manning said, “(and) I don’t see myself knowing until after the season like I said earlier.
“Whatever cliché you want to use, I kind of stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand and just deal with this week.’’
Now, listen to the man responsible for delivering Manning to Indianapolis as the first overall pick in the 1998 draft.
Bill Polian, the Colts’ first-year general manager at the time, is buying what Peyton Manning is trying to sell.
“I do not know, and I’m not sure he knows,’’ Polian said Thursday afternoon. “Typically he retreats to places where he feels comfortable, away from the spotlight for six to eight weeks after the season, and recharges his batteries and rethinks things and comes back.
“We’d always have a meeting around the first of March and he’d always have a list of things he wanted to talk about. I anticipate he’ll do the same thing this time. It may not take that amount of time, but I don’t think he’s made up his mind now.
“I think he probably will take some time after the game to reflect on the season.’’
However, the difference between then and now is stark.
The meetings between Manning and Polian during their stellar 14-year relationship in Indianapolis generally dealt with what tweaks were necessary for Manning and the Colts to chase a championship. They won one after the 2006 season with a 29-17 decision over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, and fell a step short in ’09 when they were denied by the New Orleans Saints 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.
Now, it’s whether Manning wants to continue playing and deal with a body that turns 40 March 24. Hip and foot injuries have greatly impacted his performance the past two seasons and he revealed this week hip replacement surgery probably is in his long-term future. Perhaps more important is whether the Broncos want him back for a fifth season.
All indicators point to Manning and Denver parting ways in the offseason. Brock Osweiler is the Broncos’ quarterback of the future, and Manning would count $21.5 million against the salary cap. The team saves $19 million by releasing him.
“He doesn’t need to worry or think about retirement now,’’ Broncos’ general manager John Elway said. “He’s worked too hard to get where he is now. There’s no sense in talking about whether he’s going to end it now or not.
“He has plenty of time in the offseason to reminisce and look back. His key thing is to concentrate and stay in the moment.’’
While Polian has no idea whether the end is near for Manning, he’s steadfast in his belief the game – win or lose – should have no bearing on Manning’s legacy.
Manning’s 186 regular-season wins tie Brett Favre for the most by a quarterback in NFL history. He’s the league’s only five-time Most Valuable Player, holds career records with 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns, and set the single-season marks in 2013 with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns.
But Manning is just 13-13 in the playoffs and 1-2 in the Super Bowl.
Ask Polian if a third loss, which would tie him with Elway and Fran Tarkenton for the second-most behind Jim Kelly (four), would taint Manning’s reputation, then duck.
“I get mad,’’ he said. “Instead of barking at you like I used to, now I laugh. No, (a loss) does not.
“The Super Bowl is one game. To get there, regardless of what happens in the game, is an incredible accomplishment. While the winner is to be lauded, the loser is not to be denigrated. That’s unfortunately the system that’s evolved. (Long-time New York Giants executive) George Young once called it the victor and the vanquished.
“In terms of judging an athlete solely by how he plays in the Super Bowl, in the game itself, I think is as fallacious as it gets. You have to make a lot of great plays to get here. You have to overcome a lot of obstacles to get here. And sometimes in the game the ball can bounce the wrong way, you can get a bad call, (maybe) the coaches don’t make the right call in the right situation and things happen.
“It’s one game. To base a person’s legacy on how he performed in the Super Bowl after having gotten there and in his case four times, I think is foolish.’’