Great comeback stories often make for tremendous screenplay. Rarely do we get to witness such stories outside of a movie theater. But this season, Peyton Manning has provided a story that even Hollywood couldn’t script. When sports history is asked to recall its greatest comeback stories, Peyton Manning’s 2015 season will be sitting at the top.
With one last chance to separate himself from his generational rival, Manning delivered. Manning outplayed his longtime nemesis en route to his 4th Super Bowl appearance of his storied career. Manning moved to 3-1 all-time against Brady in AFC Championship games. It seems poetic that Manning’s final run would include a concluding win against his arch-nemesis on the biggest possible stage. Manning and Brady shared an extended embrace at the end of the game, both realizing the finality of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports.
Now, Manning has a chance to end his career in a way that another famous Broncos player had before him. Ironically, Manning had a run in the 3rd quarter of the game that had echoed flashbacks to John Elway’s run against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.The Broncos’ win is a chance for Elway to keep a promise he made to Manning when he signed in 2012. That promise was if he signed with the Broncos, Elway would do everything in his power “to make sure he finishes his career the way I finished mine.” But to truly appreciate this moment, we have to look at the events leading up to it for Peyton Manning.
Begin with how many had already written Manning off heading into the season after the previous year’s playoff loss to the Colts. Then add the Planter Fasciitis injury and the four interceptions that lead to his benching against Kansas City. Then, add the HGH allegations from the now disbanded Al-Jazzera America news network. Summarize it by making it appear Manning’s run is completely over with his backup playing adequately enough in his absence to deter thoughts of his return. Manning overcame all of this to reclaim his starting job before the playoffs.
Manning’s father, Archie, spoke fondly of this moment: “I’m just so happy he’s getting to play again,” Archie said. “Being hurt is the worst side of football, but just to play again, gosh, and to help them into the No. 1 seed and then to win two playoff games. … I didn’t know if he’d play again. He fought this thing a long time, and the good Lord looked down on him. … This is a special day”
For Manning, it’s vindication. It’s hard to imagine that a player of his magnitude would need it at this point in his career. But in the face of mounting critics in his tremendous comeback story, Peyton Manning showed the world that he still has enough magic left to deliver one final run.