SAN FRANCISCO — He’s one of the NFL’s most iconic figures but is this the end for Peyton Manning? The 39-year-old celebrated his second Super Bowl win Sunday after his Denver Broncos overcame Carolina Panthers 24-10 at Levi’s Stadium.
But while the Broncos might have shone, this was no vintage showing from Manning who became the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history.
He was sacked five times and failed to throw a touchdown pass during a contest watched by an estimated 160 million people across the world.
So is it time for Manning to take off his helmet for the final time? The man himself remained noncommittal on his future.
“You know, I’ll take some time to reflect,” Manning told reporters.
“I have a couple of priorities first. I want to go kiss my wife and my kids, I want to go hug my family. I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight.
“I promise you that. I’m going to take care of those things first, and say a little prayer to thank the man upstairs for this great opportunity. I’m just very grateful.”
Victory for the Broncos was the perfect ending to a difficult season for Manning.
In December, he was forced to strongly deny a claim in a documentary aired by Al Jazeera America alleging that he was among a number of professional athletes who were provided human growth hormone, or HGH, by an Indiana doctor.
On top of that, he missed nearly two months and six games of the season with a foot injury and was benched for the first time in his career with backup Brock Osweiler filling in.
But in Week 17, Manning returned, coming off the bench to lead Denver to a win over the San Diego Chargers to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Manning labeled it “a unique season.”
“I certainly knew with this defense that this team would have a chance,” said Manning.
The Broncos lead the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton got to see — and feel — that up close. He was sacked seven times, tying a Super Bowl record.
“Our defense has just been from the get-go, they’ve been nothing but awesome. Being hurt, the struggle early in the season wasn’t a lot of fun, so I was grateful to get back healthy and to try to play my part these last couple of weeks.”
The first quarterback to win the Super Bowl with two different teams, Manning now faces the decision to end a hugely successful career.
According to Forbes, he has amassed career earnings of $247 million — an NFL record — and that’s before you add endorsements.
He’s the first quarterback with 200 career wins (186 regular season and 14 postseason) with this latest win taking him past Brett Favre.
The win also drew him level with younger brother Eli, who has won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants during his career.
Mom’s the word
With nothing left to prove, it could be the perfect time to bow out — at least that’s his mother’s view.
“I would like Peyton to retire. I would,” Olivia Manning told ESPN and the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re on top, and physically, I just don’t think it’s worth going on. You won a Super Bowl. That’s the best way to go out.”
But while his mother might be keen for her son to walk away from the sport, her husband, Archie, is less sure.
Archie, who played 15 seasons in the NFL, says it’s up to his son to make the decision — and he won’t be telling him what to do.
“He’s 40 years old, he’s played so much more football than me,” Manning’s father told the Los Angeles Times.
“I always tell him to keep the faith and have fun … At some point, we’ll talk about some things and he’s got some decisions to make.
“I want to hear his side of it first. I’ve got some ideas. I would never tell Peyton what to do, what not to do. I’ll lay some things out for him. But he knows what to consider. If he wants to play some more football, he’s going to have to go to another team. He’d be 40 … First thing I’m going to do is say, ‘Talk to me. Tell me what’s on your mind.’
“But he needs to enjoy this. Not too many people get to do this twice.”
Given Manning is a five-time MVP, Super Bowl MVP, 14-time Pro Bowl selection and seven-time first team All-Pro, his legacy is already secured.
In 15 of his 18 seasons in the NFL, his team made the playoffs in all but three — not forgetting his lead role in the Indianapolis Colts’ triumph nine years ago.
Asked after the game about his future, he left the world wondering.
“I think I’ll make a good decision,” he told reporters, “and I think I’ll be at peace with it, whichever way it goes.”