After four consecutive AFC West titles, a record-breaking 2013 season, and two Super Bowl appearances in just four years, it would be an understatement to say that Peyton Manning, 39, has led the Denver Broncos through one of the most prosperous periods in franchise history.
However, this season has been an entirely different story for the future first ballot Hall of Famer. Statistically, 2015 was a nightmare for Manning. His 17 interceptions led the NFL until the final week of the regular season, despite the fact he only started nine games.
It has become increasingly clear that the five-time NFL MVP will be playing in his final football game when the Broncos suit up against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 February 7th.
As orange and blue confetti rained down on Sports Authority field following Sunday’s 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots, microphones picked up Manning’s conversation with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “Hey, listen; this might be my last rodeo,” Manning said. “So, it sure has been a pleasure.” This clip aired on NFL Total Access Monday night.
While Manning certainly did not intend for his conversation with Belichick to be overheard, it provides fans their first real insight into how he views this season, and his impending fourth trip to the Super Bowl.
Manning has been consistently coy on the subject of retirement throughout his four years with the Broncos. Rarely has he gone beyond clichés when discussing his football mortality. In fact, his conversation with Belichick may be the first time he has actually used the words “my” and “last” consecutively since coming to Denver.
Yet, that conversation, and several of his actions following the victory seem to show clear indications that suggest “The Sherriff” plans to hang up his lasso after the final whistle sounds in Santa Clara two weeks from now.
Manning has never been one to reflect on his career. Yet, when handed the microphone during the trophy presentation by CBS’ Jim Nantz, the ever stoic quarterback began by doing exactly that.
“It’s been a special four years, playing here in Denver for these great fans and this great organization,” Manning said. “To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special.”
Taking a moment to thank the Broncos and Broncos fans was a rare and public sentimental moment for a man who has spent the last eighteen years being hailed as a ruthless competitor.
However, once the cameras were gone and the lights were dim at Sports Authority Field at Mile High about two hours following the game, Manning seemed to enjoy one more sentimental moment. This one was just for him.
As grounds crews picked up the scraps of orange and blue paper that signified yet another milestone in his remarkable career, Peyton Manning was seen walking out onto the field with his family.
He paused for a moment to look around the building where he played in his first game after battling back from four neck surgeries, set the NFL’s all-time passing touchdown and yardage records, and won two AFC Championships.
Manning, holding his four-year-old son’s hand, soaked in his surroundings, picked up a handful of confetti, and walked out of the building for likely the final time as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
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