Two-time Super Bowl champion and five-time league MVP Peyton Manning announced his retirement March 7, following an 18-year career with the NFL, including 14 years with the Indianapolis Colts and four years with the Denver Broncos. Manning’s decision to retire comes just a month after he guided the Denver Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50.
The University of Tennessee alumnus has numerous NFL records to his name: most touchdown passes by a quarterback (539), most passing yards by a quarterback (71,940), most wins by a quarterback (200), 5-time NFL MVP, and 14 games with over 4,000 yards passing. Remarkably, two of his all-time records — most touchdown passes in a game (7) and most touchdown passes in a season (55) — came in 2013, two years after multiple neck surgeries curtailed his career. As this future hall-of-famer calls time on an illustrious career, we take a look back at what made Peyton Manning one of the best to ever play the game.
Peyton Manning, son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, played college football for the University of Tennessee and led them to the SEC Championship in his senior year. He was selected first overall in the 1998 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. In his rookie year in the NFL, Manning set the inauspicious record for most interceptions by a rookie (28). However, he would only get better from then on.
Manning won the first of his five MVPs in 2003, leading the Colts to a 12-4 regular season while leading the league in passing yards. Manning followed his 2003 heroics with another MVP season in which he threw for a then-record 49 touchdown passes and finished with an incredible 121.1 passer rating. Manning led the league in passer rating again in 2005 and finished second in the MVP voting. He was named to the AP All-Pro first team for the third successive year.
While Manning was devouring all the regular season plaudits, the Lombardi trophy proved elusive. His arch-rival Tom Brady had won three in his first four years as a starter. Manning would go on to bury his post-season ghosts and win against his nemeses, the New England Patriots, in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. Down 21-3, Manning led a record comeback, including an 80-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown to seal the Colts’ entry to SB XLI. The Manning-led Colts would defeat the Bears to give No. 18 his first SB ring and SB-MVP.
Following multiple neck surgeries in 2011, Manning signed with the Denver Broncos in 2012. He led the Broncos to a top-two finish in the AFC in each of his four seasons with them. He had record-setting numbers in 2013 when he threw 55 touchdown passes that season, but his quest for a second SB trophy was thwarted by the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom. Two years later, Manning would finish his mission as he guided the Broncos to victory in SB 50. Just like general manager John Elway, Peyton Manning walked away as a Super Bowl champion.
Off the field, Manning has generally had a positive image. Yet this was tempered by allegations of sexual assault by Jamie Naughright, the director of health and wellness when Manning was the quarterback at University of Tennessee, and suspicions that Manning used human growth hormone (hGH) when recovering from neck surgeries. On the latter point, Manning has vehemently denied using hGH, and no evidence has been found to suggest otherwise.
Peyton Manning revolutionized the way football is played. Through his unique ability to recognize defensive schemes and change plays at the line of scrimmage, Manning was able to win a number of tactical battles on the field. Manning, along with Brady, is largely responsible for ushering in the era of the quarterback and a pass-happy league.
He is perhaps the best regular-season performer of all time. As Manning himself said, at times he might not have been the most talented player on the field but he ensured he was the most prepared. He wanted to be remembered as a great teammate who genuinely loved football. Fans will miss a perfectionist who set the bar high for his peers, and of course, his famous audible, “OMAHA!”