This is the way it’s supposed to happen. This is the way it’s supposed to end.
It ends with Peyton Manning holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft in hands that still do not fully have complete feeling to the fingertips on some days, following four neck surgeries to alleviate nerve damage he has sustained over years.
Super Bowl 50 is over.
Manning and the Denver Broncos are the football champions of the free world. And now all that need be done by one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever strap on an NFL helmet is for him to walk away.
Let it end, Peyton Manning.
Amid the cheers.
And the confetti.
And the glory.
Denver 24, Carolina 10 just authored you a Hollywood ending.
Manning walked off the field with 1:01 to play in the fourth quarter, victory securely his, to a sideline and teammates that covered him in hugs and love.
And that moment had a look of finality for Manning.
And a sense of peace.
Manning is 39 years old now, and although he is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, indeed, a two-time Super Bowl championship quarterback, his grand gifts that made him so great and so dangerous are quickly fading.
He isn’t the same guy.
And if he were to ever elect to come back next season, he might not even be the team’s starting quarterback. He might not even be on the Broncos.
And so he is going to be done after this game. He should be done after this game.
“It’s very special,” Manning said. “This game is much like this season has been. It tested our toughness, our resilience, our unselfishness. It’s only fitting it turned out this way. Great bunch of teammates, great bunch of guys I got to play with. I’m just very, very grateful.”
Only moments after the game, Manning admitted he had been reflecting on his career this week and even the hours before the game.
“You certainly do,” he said. “On the bus rides, you think. And you get asked a lot of questions, and you reflect about coaches and family members and friends that helped you get to the Super Bowl, get to this point. I’m very grateful. I’ve taken the time to call those people, tell them how much I appreciate their support. Obviously, it’s very special to cap it off with a Super Bowl championship.”
Manning would not say he was done after the game. He said he had spoken with former coach Tony Dungy, who told him not to make an emotional decision. And so following this game was not the time for big decisions.
“This has been a emotional week. An emotional night,” Manning said. “I’m going to go drink a lot of beer tonight. And I’ll take some time to reflect. I’m going to go kiss my wife and my kids. I want to go hug my family.
“Then I’m going to say a little prayer and thank the man upstairs for giving me this great opportunity. I’m very grateful.”
It makes sense that Manning didn’t make any grand announcement after this game. That’s not his style. He is meticulous and considers all the angles.
He wasn’t going to overshadow the celebration of this Super Bowl and his teammates with any bombshell announcements.
But it is more likely than not that a retirement announcement is coming in the next few weeks or months.
And, again, that would be perfect.
The Super Bowl has seen heroes walk away after one final ride atop the world before.
Coach Bill Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to their Super Bowl championship in as many tries on Jan. 22, 1989, and then walked away with his team still so loaded with talent they would win another championship the following year.
We remember Walsh breaking down in the locker room when Brent Musburger asked him if he was done. He didn’t answer but we kind of had the feeling it was over.
John Elway, the general
manager and executive vice president of these Broncos, won his second consecutive Super Bowl on Jan. 31, 1999, as quarterback of the team and decided that too would be the culmination of a 16-year career.
Elway, by the way, walked away at age 38 after a game in which he threw for 336 yards and won the Super Bowl MVP award. But he knew his body could no longer respond to the grind and pounding that makes some 50-year-old NFL veterans look and walk like they’re 65- or 70-year old Social Security recipients.
This game turns men made of steel to dust.
It happens to all of them. Even a quarterback as great as The Sheriff, who has worked more late game magic than just about any human alive or dead, will not beat this clock.
This clock, marking down to every player’s career end, is undefeated.
And it looks like it has run out on Peyton Manning.
We saw that on a third-and-9 situation from the Denver 26 with 5:30 to play in this game and the Broncos holding on to a tenuous 16-10 lead.
Ten years ago, Manning is throwing on that passing down.
This night he handed off and the Broncos punted.
Wisdom? Considering Manning had already thrown an interception earlier and the Broncos defense was playing like the Orange Crush of old, it was brilliant.
And that was proven to be the case when Super Bowl MVP Von Miller slapped the ball from Cam Newton’s cocked arm, and the Broncos recovered the fumble inside the Panthers’ 10-yard line.
The Broncos scored the lights-out touchdown and got a two-point conversion afterward to seal the victory.
So Manning wasn’t the hero this game. He completed a modest 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards without a touchdown.
Manning finished the evening a winner. He is on top of the world today because that’s where his team is. And if he’s feeling at all incomplete about this, what should be his final performance, he will have plenty of time over the next few years to consider this:
▪ He left the game as the all-time leader in career touchdowns and passing yards.
▪ He now has two Super Bowl titles to be nostalgic about.
▪ He was the MVP in Super Bowl 41.
▪ He was a five-time NFL MVP.
▪ He was a seven-time All-Pro and 14-time Pro Bowl selection.
▪ He was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2012.
Manning’s nickname is The Sheriff because Jon Gruden said during a 2009 Monday night game in Miami that Manning “lays down the law.”
Well, soon the NFL will need a new sheriff in town.