When the 2016 NFL season gets underway in September it will have a distinctly different feel to it following the retirement of one of the game’s all-time greats. Peyton Manning walks away after 18 seasons (14 with the Indianapolis Colts and 4 with the Denver Broncos) having made an indelible impression on the modern game he did so much to help shape and revolutionize. Manning’s influence in offensive game planning is clearly visible. Pioneering the hurry-up shotgun passing offense under the stewardship of notable offensive minds such as Tom Moore and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, it is now the dominant pre-snap formation in the NFL today. In fact, over 60% of all offensive plays in 2015 utilised the system Manning popularised.
At age 39, Manning had his fairytale ending. His final campaign was blighted by injuries that saw him miss a number of games, and his production fell off a proverbial cliff as a combination of four neck surgeries and his physical limitations caught up with him. He posted statistically the worst season of his career tossing 17 interceptions to only 9 touchdowns. Yet Manning also holds numerous records and is virtually top of every quarterback category: Most touchdowns (539), most passing yards (71,940), most wins (200), most game winning drives (54), most touchdowns in a single season (55), most passing yards in a single season (5,477), most 4,000 yard seasons (14) and is tied for the most touchdowns in a single game with 7. He is also the first quarterback to reach four Super Bowls with four different coaches and the first to win two rings with two different men at the helm. Manning can also boast one Super Bowl MVP award and five NFL MVP awards – the most by any player in history. His retirement press conference was classy and humorous. Manning handled a situation that every professional dreads with consummate ease. When all is said and done, Manning will be in the discussion among the best quarterbacks of all time, and he is in esteemed company. Tom Brady; Joe Montana; Dan Marino; Brett Favre; Roger Staubach; John Elway; Bart Starr; Terry Bradshaw. The list is a long one. It was rather fitting that in a testing season Manning was able to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy last month. The league as a whole has lost some star names this off-season with the retirement of many high-profile players including Charles Woodson, Justin Tuck, Calvin Johnson and Jared Allen. His retirement was not a surprise, and the fact remains he likely would have hung up his cleats even if the Broncos had not overcome the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 last month. Yet it does not make the news any easier to digest. Manning dominated the NFL for over a decade and was its poster-boy.
The nature of the NFL today owes much to Manning; his preparation and attention to detail. Time will tell where he will end up, but don’t be surprised if he finds a home on an NFL team’s front office or as a coach. All that is left is to say farewell to ‘the Sheriff’.
Image courtesy of Craig Hawkins.