Peyton Mannings neck is just like yours and mine. Except its surgically put together and attached to a body thats worth north of $100 million.
Oh, there is one other difference: That neck, and the head it supports, is just two victories from a third trip to a Super Bowl. Pretty remarkable stuff for an aging quarterback who had had a noodle arm this time last year.
In the year of the comeback, Adrian Petersons 2,000-yard season a year after reconstructive knee story has gotten top billing. But something possibly even more remarkable has gone down in the rarified air of Denvers Rocky Mountains.
See, everyone thought Peterson would play again. Players come back from torn ACLs all the time. But Manning needed two surgeries in 2011 on his ailing neck, the second of which fused two vertebrae into one. At his age (he turns 37 in March), some questioned whether Manning was done.
A year later, hes never played better. Manning, in his first season with the Broncos, neared career highs in passing attempts (400), passing yards (4,659) and completion percentage (68.6).
Mannings quarterback rating (105.8) was second in the league. He threw an interception just once every 53 pass attempts. And hes considered among the favorites for a fifth MVP award, which would break his own record.
Opening day against Pittsburgh [in 2012] I remember one year ago I was in a hospital bed watching opening day, so theres a little reminder there of how far Ive come, Manning said this week as he prepared to face the Ravens in an AFC Divisional Round game.
It just reminds me of how grateful I am for the people that have helped me along the way, Manning added. I certainly do kind of remind myself how hard I have worked, but Ive also received a lot of help and Im grateful for that help.
The Broncos have helped plenty, particularly in the confidence department. Even with questions about his arm strength, Denver signed Manning to a five-year, $96 million deal with Denver last spring. He decided on the Broncos after a two-week free agency tour, meeting with a handful of suitors, including the Dolphins.
Manning rewarded that faith with 37 touchdown passes and an 11-game winning streak entering the playoffs.
Youre at a loss for words, I think, or superlatives to describe who Peyton Manning is and the job hes done, said Joe Theismann, the former Super Bowl champion quarterback for the Redskins.
Fantastic, great, fabulous, incredible, unbelievable, theyre all applicable.
Theismann said Manning has checked every doubters question off the list. Can he handle the rigors of a 16-game season? Proven. Will the arm hold up? It has.
Well, the jurys still out on one: What will he look like in cold weather?
That fused neck could get a bit achy Saturday, with highs in the teens at Mile High Stadium. Snow is in the forecast, too.
Then theres the bluster and fury of Ray Lewis, whose farewell tour heads to Denver. Lewis is retiring at seasons end, and his goodbye to Baltimore in the Ravens wild card win over the Colts was emotionally charged.
But revenge, not nostalgia, could be fueling Lewis this week. Manning has beaten the Ravens nine consecutive times, including a 34-17 shellacking last month.
You give him what he wants? He beats you. You give him what he doesnt want? Then you beat him, Lewis said. I think thats the way the game always plays out against us every time we play each other. Were back to one of those classic games again.
Manning has made no secret his admiration for Lewis and plans to have a private moment with the former Miami Hurricane at some point, away from the cameras. Lewis has the same respect for the leagues third-most prolific passer in history.
Still, one remarkable journey must come to an end Saturday: Mannings comeback season or Lewis fearsome career. And the durability of two little bones in No. 18s spine could make all the difference.