Peyton Manning: A Hall of Fame Career

Peyton Manning gets his number retired
Peyton Manning gets his number retired. | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s like Peyton Manning was practically born for greatness. The second of three boys born to father Archie Manning — a former NFL quarterback — Manning carried on his bloodline’s great tradition of athletic prowess. His older brother, Cooper Manning, was once a promising wide receiver at Ole Miss University of Mississippi, until an injury ended his pursuit of an NFL career. His younger brother, Eli Manning, would end up drafted in the NFL just six years after Manning was. Combined, the Manning men have 45 years of NFL experience between them.

Manning was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1976. During this time, his father played for the New Orleans Saints. It was there that Manning grew up, partially in the shadow of his older brother, and attended Isidore Newman High School. Setting a school record in passing for more than 7,000 yards, Manning became one of the biggest recruiting prospects in college football history.

In the end, it was the University of Tennessee that Manning committed to, as he went to play for then-head coach Phillip Fulmer. Immediately, Fulmer knew what he had in the special talent.

“Peyton was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country. On tape, he was in control, in command of the ball, and he just looked the part of a drop-back quarterback. Our offense interested Peyton because we were throwing the ball, and we could adjust to the ability of the quarterback. Looking back, I was just elated Peyton was interested in Tennessee,” Fulmer told Sports Illustrated.

Manning played all four seasons at the University of Tennessee for the Volunteers, finishing his collegiate career with a 62.5% completion percentage, 11,201 passing yards — the fourth college quarterback to top 11,000 passing yards — and 89 touchdowns to just 33 interceptions. He finished with an outstanding passer rating of 147.1. Even though the Vols never won an NCAA championship with Manning, a lot of the groundwork was laid out by the quarterback to help develop and recruit talented players to the program. That led to the school winning a National Championship after he left in 1998.

The NFL draft and rookie year

Peyton Manning has the goods
Peyton Manning had some stiff competition in Ryan Leaf during the NFL draft. In the end, however, he came out victorious. | Elsa/Getty Images

Heading into the 1998 NFL draft, the debate around the NFL was whether Manning would end up the No. 1 overall pick, or if he would be second to fellow quarterback prospect Ryan Leaf. The Indianapolis Colts had first pick and the San Diego Chargers had the second, with each team being guaranteed a chance to draft one of the top two quarterback prospects.

But while the Colts leaned toward taking Leaf, the young quarterback shunned a meeting with head coach Jim Mora. Consequently, Indianapolis turned its attention to Manning. According to USA Today, Leaf heavily preferred the notion of playing football in San Diego to Middle America’s Indianapolis. This led his agent to suggest that skipping a sit-down with Mora might spare his reputation, all but guaranteeing that the Colts would choose Manning.

It was the right choice — at least as far as Manning was concerned. While Manning went on to have a Hall of Fame career, Leaf lasted only three seasons in the NFL with 14 touchdowns to 36 interceptions (3,666 passing yards). His career quarterback rating? A sad 50.

After being drafted by the Colts, Manning signed what was then considered to be a rookie record contract. He committed to the Colts for six years for $48 million (and that’s not including his $11.6 million bonus). Just like that, he instantaneously became a millionaire and endeared himself to his new home fans right from the start.

“People ask me what I plan to do with the money. I plan to earn it,” the Indianapolis Colts quarterback said, according to The Buffalo News. “Whatever it is I sign for, it won’t make any difference to me unless I’m a productive quarterback in the NFL.”

In his rookie season, it wasn’t immediately clear that Manning was going to be headed for greatness. Installed as the starting quarterback, he led the Colts to a disappointing 3-13 record. While his 71.2 passer rating was better than what Leaf was doing in San Diego, California, it wasn’t good enough to land Manning anywhere near the top portion of quarterbacks in the league.

Manning’s first victory as a pro was during his fifth week, when Leaf’s 2-2 Chargers came to Indianapolis to take on Manning’s 0-4 Colts. Interestingly enough, both quarterbacks were 12-for-23 passing in the game, with each throwing one interception. But Manning also threw a touchdown pass, a 19-yarder, to running back Marshall Faulk. So, on the flip side, the Colts were able to sack Leaf four times.

1999 to 2000

Peyton Manning throws a pass
Peyton Manning throws a pass. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Heading into his second season, Manning was determined to take his team to the postseason for the first time. The Colts got off to a 2-2 start, with wins over the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers, and losses to the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. From there, things really took off. Manning had a 62.8% completion rate over the final 12 games of the season, throwing 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions and 2,950 passing yards.

The Colts finished with a 13-3 record, with Manning yet again starting all 16 games. Indianapolis was first in its division, earning the first-round bye in the postseason. Manning’s first ever playoff game came on his home turf against the Tennessee Titans, and despite a less than stellar performance by the quarterback, the team took a 9-6 lead into halftime. But a 68-yard run by the Titans’s running back Eddie George, followed by a pair of the Titans’s field goals, put the game away for them — the Colts lost the game 19-16.

In the 2000 season, the Colts made the playoffs again. Manning had another fine year, with a passer rating of 94.7 — coming in at No. 6 among quarterbacks in the NFL — with 4,413 yards and 33 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. Indianapolis finished 10-6, heading into the playoffs as No. 2 in its own division behind the 11-5 Dolphins.

It was those same Dolphins that ended Manning’s season and cost him another playoff game. Manning was 17-for-32 for 197 yards and with a touchdown in the game, but the Colts were done in by the running game of the Dolphins. Lamar Smith rushed for 209 yards and scored two touchdowns on an insane 40 carries, putting away the Colts with a score of 23-17.

2001 to 2002

Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts leads a huddle while facing the Chicago Bears
Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts leads a huddle while facing the Chicago Bears. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In 2001, Manning would fail to win a playoff game again. He had a down year despite making it into all 16 games, with a passer rating of 84.1, 26 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and 4,131 passing yards. The Colts got off to a promising start, with a solid road win over the New York Jets and a home victory against the Buffalo Bills. But Indianapolis would go on a streak of 10 losses in its next 13 games, which is when things ultimately got ugly.

Mora, who was still the head coach of the Colts at the time, exploded after Manning threw four interceptions in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. The coach spit out his infamous and often replayed line in a postgame press conference: “Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs,” Mora said. “Are you kidding me. Playoffs? I’m just hoping we can win a game, another game.”

The Colts finished the season 6-10, leading to Mora’s departure. He was replaced by head coach Tony Dungy.

In 2002, Manning improved slightly on the field with an 88.8 passer rating and 27 touchdowns to 19 interceptions, which was good enough to make his third career Pro Bowl. But the biggest improvement was in the win column, with the Colts winning 10-6 and finding their way back to the playoffs.

Per yearly tradition, though, Manning would fail to win a playoff game despite his team having hit such a record. The Colts traveled to New York to take on the Jets in the wild-card round, which featured two teams with identical records. New York quarterback James “Chad” Pennington had a great day, going 19-for-25 with three touchdown passes, while Manning mustered up only 14-for-31 with two interceptions. It was an embarrassing 41-0 defeat for the Colts.


Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts gestures at the line of scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles
Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts gestures at the line of scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Things finally turned around in 2003. The reason? An impressive young defense, led by stalwarts such as Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Larry Tripplett, and David Thornton. Manning stepped up his game in a big way, too, completing 67% of his passes, throwing for 4,267 yards, scoring 29 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, and putting up a career-best passer rating of 99.0.

The Colts finished the season 12-4, and Manning won his very first NFL MVP award. He had multiple great moments during the season, including one that exemplified his rise from good to great. On ESPN’s Monday Night Football, the Colts fell behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 28-7 as they headed into the fourth quarter.

With a perfect 4-0 record on the line, and not wanting to embarrass themselves in front of a large national audience, Manning led the Colts in a dramatic comeback. The Colts ended up tying the game at 35-35, sending it into overtime, and kicking the winning field goal.

But that wouldn’t be the highlight of Manning’s season. In the wild-card round against the Denver Broncos, Manning finally earned his first ever playoff victory. He was absolutely outstanding, going for a 22-for-26 passing with 377 yards and five touchdowns. The Colts built up an early lead that was insurmountable for Jake Plummer, Clinton Portis, and the Broncos. The Colts won the game 41-10 and moved on to play against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Riding the high of his first playoff victory, Manning and the Colts quickly took care of his second win, too. Manning was nearly as great against the Kansas City Chiefs as he was against the Denver Broncos, going 22-for-30 in the game for 304 yards and three touchdowns. The Kansas City Chiefs made a game of it anyway, getting within 38-31 on a Priest Holmes touchdown with only 4:22 minutes remaining in the game. Despite the close call, the Colts pulled out the victory.

But that was as far as the Colts would go in 2003. Against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, Manning threw four interceptions in a 24-14 loss. As bitter as the end of the season was for them, it was clear that both the franchise and their quarterback took a major step forward that season.


Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts calls an audible against the New Orleans Saints
Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts calls an audible against the New Orleans Saints. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The year started well for Manning after the team’s loss in the AFC Championship. In May of 2004, he signed a contract extension with the Colts that would pay him an estimated $98 million over seven seasons. At the time, it was one of the largest contracts ever handed out in NFL history.

After losing in the first week of the season to the New England Patriots, the Colts went on a tear. They ended up with the best offense in the NFL, averaging 32.6 points per game. Manning led the way, putting up absurd numbers. He had a then-record 121.1 passer rating with a 67.7% completion rate, 4,557 passing yards, a then-NFL record 49 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions. Manning walked away with his second NFL MVP award in 2004.

His best game came against the Tennessee Titans in a high-scoring affair that saw the Titans taking a 24-17 lead at the end of the first quarter. Manning would throw three touchdown passes with a season high of 425 passing yards on 25-for-33 passing, earning the Colts a 51-24 win.

The Colts finished the season with a 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos creating some concern among Colts fans — the 12-4 Colts would be playing the Broncos again a week later in the wild card round of the playoffs. But those worries proved to be unfounded, as Manning went 27-for-33 passing for 458 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-24 win over Denver.

Indianapolis moved on to yet again play the New England Patriots. The Colts lost to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass during the game, instead being left with one interception, a 69.3 passer rating, and a 20-3 loss.


Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers
Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thanks to a defense that improved and became one of the very best in the league (No. 2 in points allowed), the Colts absolutely dominated in 2005. They went 14-2, including winning their first 13 straight. The most satisfying win of the year came from Brady’s Patriots.

Indianapolis went into New England with a 7-0 record to face off against the 4-3 Patriots, and Manning finally stuck it to his counterpart. He went 28-for-37 passing with 321 yards and three touchdowns, leading his team to a 40-21 victory.

“We wanted to execute and get a lead on this team. We haven’t had a lead on this team in a long time,” Manning said. “The idea is to try to dictate to the defense.”

“We got our butts kicked tonight,” Brady said in a short statement before hustling out of a news conference.

Disappointing as it was, the Colts wouldn’t make it far in the postseason. Taking the first-week bye, Indianapolis faced off with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round. The Colts fell behind early, trailing 21-3 into the fourth quarter. Manning helped spur a rally, hitting Dallas Clark with a 50-yard touchdown pass, and driving the team downfield for a three-yard rush from running back Edgerrin James that cut the score to 21-18 with over four minutes remaining.

The Colts got the ball back at their own 42-yard line with just over a minute to go, thanks to a fumble by the Steelers’s running back Jerome Bettis. But after Manning moved the team into field goal range, kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed the potential game-tying, 46-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining in the game.

While Manning wasn’t able to win his third NFL MVP award in 2005, he did walk away with his first Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.


Peyton Manning finally got his first Super Bowl victory in 2006
Peyton Manning finally got his first Super Bowl victory in 2006. | Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The Colts started the 2006 season 9-0, once again instilling hope in their fans’s hearts that they might have a deep run into the playoffs — and that they might be able reach the Super Bowl. But a 3-4 finish tempered some of those expectations, leaving the Colts without one of the two first-round byes. Manning, now 30 years old, was having another very good season: 65% completions, 4,397 passing yards, 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions, and a 101 passer rating.

In the first two playoff games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, Manning didn’t perform well. He completed 45-of-68 passes, which is solid, but threw just one touchdown pass with five interceptions. Even so, the Colts were able to win both games. They took down the Chiefs 23-8 and the Ravens 15-6.

That put Manning in a familiar situation: facing off against Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. It looked like the Colts would fall short yet again, with Manning starting his final drive from his own 20-yard line with just over two minutes remaining (down 34-31). But Manning completed three passes for a total of 57 yards — roughing the passer penalty on the Patriots — that got Indianapolis right down to the goal line.

Running back Joseph Addai ran it in for the go-ahead touchdown and put the Colts ahead for good, winning the game 38-31.

In the Super Bowl, Manning would face off against a dominating Chicago Bears team that had gone 13-3. Chicago took a 7-0 lead when kick returner Devin Hester ran back the opening kickoff. Things were looking good for Chicago early on as they ran all over the Colts’s defense. But key errors by the Bears covered up a mediocre effort from Manning, who was 25-for-38 passing with 247 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

The Colts took the game, 29-17, and Manning won his first Super Bowl MVP to go along with his first Super Bowl. He also participated in his seventh Pro Bowl.

“In years past when our team’s come up short, it’s been disappointing,” Manning told reporters. “Somehow we found a way to have learned from some of those losses and we’ve been a better team because of it.”

2007 to 2008

Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass
Peyton Manning, #18 of the Indianapolis Colts, throws a pass. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There was no hangover for the Colts in the wake of winning their first Super Bowl. Their offense ranked No. 3 in the NFL in 2007, while the defense ranked No. 1, allowing only 16.7 points per game. Manning was outstanding, as always, with 65.4% completions, 4,040 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and a 98 passer rating.

The big game of the regular season was a match-up with the Patriots, with both teams coming in undefeated. New England got the best of the Colts in Indianapolis. Brady threw a touchdown pass with just over three minutes remaining to put his team ahead for good (24-20 to be exact). Manning didn’t have his best game, throwing for just 227 yards and one touchdown with an interception.

The Colts finished out the season with another excellent 13-3 record, winning their division and taking one of the first-round byes. But winning a Super Bowl didn’t cure all of what ailed Manning in the postseason, letting a win slip away in the final minutes against the underdog, the San Diego Chargers. The 28-24 loss ended the Colts’s season earlier than expected, before the team could get a rematch against the Patriots in the AFC Championship.

Manning wouldn’t come into the 2008 season at full strength, having two separate knee operations during the offseason. That wasn’t enough to make him miss a game on the field, however, and for the 11th year in a row, Manning played and started all 16 games for the Colts.

Manning had his typical stats that year, despite the knee problems. He had a 66.8% completion rate, 4,002 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a passer rating of 95. While those stats don’t look much different than what Manning did on a year-to-year basis, they were good enough to earn him his third NFL MVP award.

But it was a familiar story once the playoffs rolled around for the 12-4 Colts. Going up against a brutal 8-8 Chargers team that won a weak division, Manning and the Colts blew a late lead when the Chargers’s kicker Nate Kaeding kicked a field goal to send it into overtime. The Colts would never touch the ball in the extra period, with Philip Rivers marching his team down the field and Darren Sproles scampering for a 22-yard touchdown run that won the game.


Peyton Manning ended up losing in the Super Bowl to his hometown Saints
Peyton Manning ended up losing in the Super Bowl to his hometown Saints. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Manning was excellent in his performance on the field for the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, putting up great numbers and leading his team to another phenomenal season, winning his fourth NFL MVP award. He led the Colts to a 14-0 start — they lost their final two games, because they always have to give fans a reason to worry heading into the playoffs — and the quarterback put up his usual numbers: 68.8% completions, 4,500 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions with a passer rating of 99.9.

Manning and the Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens, 20-3, to advance and play the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game. He was on top of his game, throwing for 377 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing the game with a 123.6 passer rating and taking the victory, 30-17.

That pushed the Colts into their second Super Bowl, this time against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. But the second Super Bowl victory was not meant to be for Manning. He performed well but threw a key, late interception that Saints cornerback Tracy Porter snatched and returned 74 yards for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach. The Saints won by a score of 31-17.

“Made a great play,” a red-faced Manning said after the game. “Made a great play. Corner made a heck of a play.”

“Certainly disappointing,” he allowed. “Very disappointing. Disappointing.”

Manning’s fourth NFL MVP was a league record, and he became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 40,000 or more yards in under a decade.


Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL season opener against the Houston Texans
Quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL season opener against the Houston Texans. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Manning started off 2010 on the wrong foot, requiring surgery on his neck in March. But he was ready to go on the field, heading out for their first game and playing all 16 yet again. Something just wasn’t right with the quarterback, who finished the year with a 91.9 passer rating, 4,700 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. The Colts finished with a 10-6 record which was good enough to make it to the postseason, but they didn’t make a long run to another Super Bowl.

Manning was 18-for-26 with 225 passing yards and a touchdown in the Colts’ only playoff game against the New York Jets, watching from the sidelines as Jets kicker Nick Folk turned a 16-14 Colts lead into a 17-16 Jets win with a 32-yard field goal as time expired. As it would turn out, this would be Manning’s final game in a Colts uniform.

Manning had reportedly suffered another neck injury during the very first game of the regular season, setting him up for a difficult remainder. Rumors circulated throughout the year with no official confirmation from the Colts that Manning was hurt. Instead, the team brushed it off as a stinger injury in his shoulder and an abrasion on his throwing elbow when he took a hit and fell to the ground.

But commentators noticed and made mention of Manning not appearing to be sharp throughout the year. The final nail in the coffin for Manning was the admission that his neck did, in fact, need another surgery. This time, it would cause the 35-year-old quarterback to miss the entire 2011 season.


Peyton Manning was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season
Peyton Manning was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Manning looked good and ready to go in the offseason prior to the 2011 season, which prompted the Colts to sign him to yet another long-term contract. In late July of 2011, the Colts and Manning agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract — though he would ultimately end up going only one season.

“Whether I deserve to be the highest-paid player over the next five years is irrelevant,” Manning told The (Indianapolis) Star. “I would rather them use that money and keep the players they want to keep and get other players. I told them that.”

But a third neck surgery just a few months later would throw a wrench into the whole thing.

“This procedure is performed regularly throughout the country on persons from all walks of life, including professional football players. Two former Colts players had this same procedure last winter and have fully resumed their careers,” the team said in the statement.

“Rehabilitation from such surgery is typically an involved process. Therefore, there will be no estimation of a return date at this time.”

But Manning was unable to play, sitting out during 2011 while the Colts suffered through a 2-14 season. That landed them the top pick in the draft, and with Manning’s career in question at age 36, Indianapolis made the best choice for the franchise: It drafted top quarterback prospect Andrew Luck.


Peyton Manning only played for two teams in the NFL
Peyton Manning only played for two teams in the NFL. | Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

In March of 2012, the Colts and Manning said goodbye. While it was his intention to continue playing, the team knew that it was in their best interest to move forward with their new franchise quarterback. The team released Manning, who later would sign a five-year, $96 million contract to play for the Denver Broncos. Fresh off a playoff victory, with one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Broncos still needed a quarterback to become a true Super Bowl contender.

Manning had his best season in years, leading the NFL in completion percentage at 68.6% and posting a 105.8 passer rating. He once again got into all 16 games, leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record on the season. The Broncos started poorly, going just 2-3 in their first five games. But the team finished out the regular season on an 11-game winning streak.

Unfortunately for Manning and the fans in Denver, that didn’t stop his playoff problems from returning. Facing the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round, the Broncos held a 35-28 lead with under a minute remaining and the Ravens having the ball on their own 30-yard line. Things were looking good for the Broncos to win the game, but Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco tossed an improbable 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that tied the game and sent it to overtime.

The two teams played a full overtime period without scoring, leading to what would be a tie if it had been a regular season game. But just four plays into the second overtime, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker sent a 47-yard field goal through the uprights for the victory. While the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, the Broncos had to regroup heading into 2013.

On the plus side, Manning won the Comeback Player of the Year award and finished second in the MVP voting.


On the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII, the ball goes straight over Peyton Manning's head
On the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII, the ball goes straight over Peyton Manning’s head. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Manning came back in 2013 as a 37-year-old man on a mission. He threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes while posting a passer rating of 115.1, 5,477 passing yards, and a completion rate of 68.3%. In the first game of the season, Manning got a shot at the defending-champion Ravens, the team that had knocked Denver from the playoffs the season prior.

Manning set an NFL record in that game, throwing seven touchdown passes. Manning was 27-for-42 with 462 yards passing on the day, with three different receivers catching two touchdown passes each. The Broncos won the game, 49-27, and set the tone for the rest of the season. Denver finished the year 13-3, earning the first-round bye in the playoffs.

Manning and the Broncos ran into two of his major postseason nemeses, taking on first the San Diego Chargers and then the New England Patriots. The Broncos took care of the Chargers, 24-17, with Manning throwing two touchdown passes with 230 yards. That set up the meeting with Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

Manning played a terrific game against New England, putting the Broncos out to a 23-3 lead that they’d never surrender in a 26-16 win. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, completing 32-of-43 passes for a passer rating of 118.4. That vaulted the Broncos into the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998 season, when John Elway was still the quarterback.

But it wasn’t meant to be for Denver this season. Facing the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos were fighting against the current immediately. On the first snap of the game, the ball flew over Manning’s head and into the endzone, where running back Knowshon Moreno recovered it but got tackled by a safety. The Broncos were embarrassed to the tune of 43-8 in the game.

“It’s not embarrassing,” Manning said, choking on a word he said he refuses to use, ever. “Embarrassing is an insulting word.”

“I don’t know if you ever get over it,” he said.

Manning took home his NFL-record fifth MVP award in 2013, but that was little consolation in failing to win his second Super Bowl ring.


Peyton Manning shakes hands with new Colts quarterback Andrew Luck
Peyton Manning shakes hands with new Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. | Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Broncos had another great season under Manning in 2014, but again it ended in disappointment—and this time, to an opponent against which he’d never lost a playoff game.

The 38-year-old Manning made his final Pro Bowl in 2014, again starting all 16 games and leading the Broncos to a 12-4 record. He had a passer rating of 101.5, following up his historic 55-touchdown season with 39 more and becoming the all-time NFL leader in touchdown passes, passing former Green Bay Packers great Brett Favre.

But the Broncos ran up against the Colts, who were also 12-4 on the season and riding the hot arm of Luck. Denver took a 7-0 lead on their home turf, looking good in the process and making Indianapolis fans wonder if their young, inexperienced quarterback would be up to the task of taking down the experienced Broncos and their former franchise player.

In actuality, it was the Colts getting the last laugh. They blew past Manning and the Broncos, winning the game 24-13. Manning didn’t specifically get outplayed by Luck, who threw two interceptions in the game, but nevertheless it was Colts fans getting to finally feel the other end of Manning’s disappointing one-and-done postseason adventures.

Even worse, after the Super Bowl loss against the Seahawks and now a playoff exit against the Colts, the future with Denver was suddenly in doubt for the soon-to-be-39-year-old.


Peyton Manning holds the trophy after Super Bowl 50
Peyton Manning holds the trophy after Super Bowl 50. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

While Manning was planning to return to Denver for at least one more year, the Broncos made it clear that they couldn’t bring him back on his current salary. After a three-week negotiation, Manning and the Broncos agreed on a $4 million deal that cleared significant cap space for the team while allowing them to retain their starting quarterback.

“I don’t talk about my contract. I never have in 18 years and I’m not going to start now,” Manning said. “I’ve been working real hard and I’m excited to be back with the Denver Broncos…I’m excited to get to work and get to know the new coaches and looking forward to trying to make 2015 a special year.”

But the actual football season got off to a rough start for Manning. In a 19-13 win over the Ravens in the first week of the season, Manning was a disappointing 24-for-40 passing with 175 yards and an interception, leading some to question whether his skills had deteriorated and if he could still lead the team to a Super Bowl. Nevertheless, Manning remained the starting quarterback for the Broncos through week nine, when he started a game against the Kansas City Chiefs going 5-for-20 passing with four interceptions.

Manning was benched in favor of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, and it was revealed that a part of the problem was that the 39-year-old had been dealing with a painful plantar fasciitis problem. Manning remained on the bench as Osweiler started the final seven games of the season, but Manning returned in the final game of the year in relief of the young Broncos quarterback. Osweiler had turned the ball over three times, and Denver trailed the San Diego Chargers by a score of 13-7 when Manning returned.

The Broncos won that game, 27-20, with Manning firmly installed as the starter heading into the postseason. Manning struggled against the Pittsburgh Steelers, going just 21-for-37 without a touchdown pass, but Denver was able to hold on for a 23-16 win. That pushed them to the AFC Championship game against, who else, Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.

Yet again, Manning wasn’t on top of his game. He was 17-for-32 passing with just 176 yards in the game, but threw two touchdowns and no interceptions in taking a 20-12 lead late into the game. Brady’s touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski with 12 seconds remaining left the Patriots two points shy of tying the game, but their two-point conversion attempt fell flat and the Broncos won the game, 20-18.

In his fourth and final Super Bowl, Manning finally got his second ring. Facing the 15-1 Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton, Manning’s Broncos came into the game as an underdog in the eyes of most viewers. While Manning would again have a less-than-stellar performance, Newton would match him in failing to do anything spectacular in the game. The Broncos rushed out to a 10-0 lead early, and they’d never trail in finishing off the victory over Carolina, 24-10.

Manning was just 13-for-23 passing in the game with 141 yards in the air, throwing zero touchdowns and an interception in Super Bowl 50, but it goes down as a victory no matter what.

“This game was much like this season has been, testing our toughness, our resiliency, our unselfishness,” Manning said. “It’s only fitting that it turned out that way.”

Retirement, controversies, and charity

Peyton Manning on the field
Peyton Manning walked away from the NFL after the 2015 season. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Following the 2015 win in Super Bowl 50, Manning officially walked away from the game. The general public recognizes him for his commercials, which continue into his post-playing days. Manning has done advertising work throughout his career with Papa John’s Pizza, Nationwide Insurance, Mastercard, Sprint, and DirecTV.

He also experienced his share of controversies throughout his playing days. There was a 2015 report by the Al Jazeera News Network that Manning had been on a list of professional athletes that had received performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) from Charles Sly. While this dragged on for a while, the NFL found no evidence to this claim after a thorough investigation.

There was also an incident during his college days about the alleged sexual harassment of a female trainer at the University of Tennessee, which was played off at the time as an accident when he was attempting to “moon” a fellow teammate. More information has come out in recent months and years about what may have been more than just a one-time problem, leading to a dark cloud that has hung over Manning’s legacy since he walked away in March of 2016.

Manning has also been very public with his charity initiatives, including The Peyback Foundation, which was founded early in Manning’s career as a way to help children in his homestate of Louisiana, in Indiana, and in Tennessee. Peyton and his brother Eli were some of the first to run to help victims of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area.

“The whole town is like family, so it’s very much a personal issue,” said Peyton Manning.

Manning’s efforts with children have not gone unnoticed, with a hospital in Indianapolis being renamed The Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in 2007.

“In the NFL, the name on the back of the jersey is emblematic of a player’s commitment to contribute in any way he can to the success of that team,” Manning said. “For me, having my name on the front of this building carries with it much the same — a weighty responsibility to contribute to the many victories ahead here at St. Vincent.”

While his brother, Eli, remains with the New York Giants, Peyton has focused on his commercial career and making public appearances, such as on The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Sports-Reference.