Peyton Manning: The Ultimate Comeback Story

What makes a great comeback story? Is it the level of adversity? Is it the test of character and grit? Rarely do we get to witness stories that embody such virtuous elements. Peyton Manning’s 2015 season has all the right ingredients to make it the ultimate comeback story.

The Signs of Father Time

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(Photo: AP/Jack Dempsey)

Father Time knows no boundaries. At times, we saw flashes of the old Peyton Manning. Other times we saw the effects of Father Time pulling at Peyton’s cape. Coming into the 2015 season, many had already believed that Peyton Manning was finished. Despite his early season struggles, the Broncos continued to win. After a 7-0 start, Manning’s true test of adversity began.

The Bottom

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(Photo: AP/Jack Dempsey)

After dropping their first game of the season to the Colts, the bottom fell out against the Kansas City Chiefs. Manning threw four interceptions and was benched in the same game that saw him break the all-time passing yardage record. In the coming weeks, questions loomed about Manning’s health and if many wondered if he would ever see a football field again. Then, Al-Jazeera released a story insinuating that Manning had taken HGH as part of his rehab from four neck surgeries in 2011.

It seemed that Manning’s legacy was crumbling before our eyes. Brock Oswieler showed enough flashes to remain the starter heading into the last week of the season. This is where the story likely could’ve ended for Peyton. We root for great stories but often end up succumbing to the realities of life. Fate had different plans for Manning however.

The Return

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(Photo: AP)

Manning’s return to the field this season would’ve been enough to satisfy most comeback stories. His surprising return against the San Diego Chargers seemed to afford him a rightful conclusion to his career. For the first time in his career, Manning was a healthy backup. The Broncos offense sputtered to the tune of five turnovers. With homefield advantage dangling dangerously in the balance, Kubiak made a choice that set fate in motion.

“Sometimes you just feel as if the team is looking around for that guy,” Kubiak told media after the game. “That tremendous leadership type of stuff, that’s what I felt… My gut told me to turn it over to Peyton, let him lead this football team.”

“I saw him in the training room the whole time getting ready, and I can see it in his eyes like, ‘You know what, I can’t wait to get back on the field,'” Demarcus Ware recalled of their time rehabbing from injuries. “When he got that opportunity to get back on the field and all the crowd – the 12th man in the Broncos stadium – I can see it in his eyes like ‘he’s back.’ From that point on, I knew he was ready.”

Manning’s unlikely return sparked the Broncos to victory and ignited the start of an immaculate playoff run.

The Triumph

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(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

At every turn in the postseason, Manning faced doubt. Media pundits sang of his impending demise in unison. In the divisional round against the Steelers, the Broncos found themselves down late in the 4th quarter. The game saw a unique play where Manning appeared to be sacked, only to get back up and fire a pass down the field for a long completion. The play personified Manning’s roller coaster season. Like so many times before in his career, Manning led his team back. The Broncos defense would seal the win and launch Manning and co. to the AFC Championship game to face a familiar foe.

Against longtime nemesis Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game, many wondered if he could stand up to his counterpart that seemed to be defying age. For part of Manning’s career, the Patriots have been a thorn in his side. Poetically, Manning outperformed Brady that day and took his team to Super Bowl 50. Brady faced a defense that seemed much like the immovable one’s his team had when he and Manning played earlier in their careers. If he were to return to the big game for one final dance, the only team he could’ve beat would’ve been the New England Patriots.

“This victory is a great example of what this entire season has been like. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a lot of different people stepping up. This game today was truly a team game.” said Manning after the game.

The Finish

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(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

No quarterback in NFL history had won a Super Bowl with two different franchises. At the end of Super Bowl 50, Manning would become the first to do just that. A quarterback that carried his team to victory throughout his career found himself being lifted up by his team on the unlikeliest of Super Bowl runs. Manning now finishes his illustrious career with 200 total wins, the most touchdowns and yards in NFL history and 3rd most postseason wins.

Manning told SI’s Peter King the following after the win:

“I hadn’t been a backup, hadn’t really been injured. I played a long time, but I’d only seen it from one way. I know there are a couple scenarios that I haven’t been in, but I covered a lot of bases this year. Like I said, there is a real perspective to that. And it was really sort of educational for me. You know nobody loves the quarterback position more than me. Today, with the 50th Super Bowl and the league bringing back all the MVPs, I saw Phil Simms and I saw Joe Montana and Steve Young out there on the field before the game. I wanted so badly to find a way to be out there for that MVP picture out there with Eli and Tom Brady and Joe Namath. Impossible. There was no way I could do it. But nobody loves quarterbacks more than me and I think I have an even greater perspective and appreciation for the position after this year and I’ve stuck with it. You find out a lot. And it certainly ended up in a real good way today, didn’t it?”

For a player that has the most fourth quarter comebacks in NFL history, it’s only fitting his career would end with a comeback. This is the type of story that a Hollywood screenwriter drools over. They could now base it on a true story.

Manning Answers Critics, Ousts Brady One Final Time

IMG_2947.JPGGreat 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.

Manning Gets One Final Duel With Brady

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(Photo: Rafa Alvarez)

Manning vs. Brady XVII. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady jiving for the right to go to Super Bowl 50. Two legends. One final time. History had appeared to rob fans of one final bout between these two.Manning was entering the clutches of Father Time with injuries mounting. After reclaiming his starting job, Manning’s team was down in the fourth quarter of their first playoff game. Yet, again he fought through to come back. If there is one lesson sports has taught us, its that when someone faces doubt and adversity, grit and character are revealed. Manning’s comeback thus far is a testament to his.

It seems that nearly every playoff game Manning has played in recent years is career defining. This one appears to afford him the opportunity to finally separate himself from his biggest generational rival. If Manning wins, he moves to 3-2 all-time against Brady in the postseason. Those 3 wins would also have come in the AFC Championship game. If the script writers are wanting to give Manning his final due, it’s only fitting one of his final scenes features a bout with Brady. Ironically, one of his worst statistical seasons has blossomed into one that has him one game way from the Super Bowl. Manning and the Broncos likely will be underdogs at home against the Patriots next week. But for Manning, it’s just part of the script.

In Ryan Grigson-Chuck Pagano Feud, Pagano Wins

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(Photo: Michael Conroy, AP)

In the reported feud between Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, Pagano came away the victor Monday night. The embattled Indianapolis coach had answered questions about his job since the Colts lost their opening game this season but remained constant in his desire to coach the Colts. Many expected that Pagano would be let go and that owner Jim Irsay would make a big splash for his next head coach after a trainwreck 8-8 season. Ryan Grigson was expected to remain the GM through the forthcoming hiring process. But Monday evening, the tide appeared to shift in Pagano’s favor after hours in a meeting between Irsay and himself. That night, Irsay announced that Pagano would be staying with the Colts in a joint press conference with Pagano and Grigson.

It’s worthwhile to note Grigson’s demeanor during the conference. He had the look of a guy that absolutely did not want to be there. Contrast that with the look of Chuck Pagano and it’s not hard to figure out what happened. Pagano won. The entire feud has had the feel of watching two kids fight in school but become best friends once they got to the principal’s office. It’ll never be definitively known but it’s a safe bet that Pagano voiced Grigson’s numerous oversteps to Irsay. Irsay in all likelihood sided with Pagano and took some of Grigson’s authority away. Grigson’s frustration with this may have manifest itself in his body language at the press conference. Sympathetic fans of Pagano poured out their thoughts via social media and started the hashtag “chuckstay” that clearly got the attention of the Colts themselves:

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Interestingly, there wasn’t one for Ryan Grigson.

Time will tell if Irsay made the right choice in sticking with both men that are now tied to the hip.It’ll be interesting to see if Irsay can continue to mediate a clearly shaky relationship between the two.Irsay has shown that he favors stability and continuity which has helped propel the Colts to being one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. The Colts still have holes to fill on their roster while the AFC South is proving to no longer be a cakewalk. But for now, Chuck Pagano gets to enjoy another victory. One that allowed him to keep his job.

The NFL’s Quarterback Crisis

The NFL has a crisis on its hands. No, it isn’t PR control from deflated footballs or from movies about concussions. Rather, it’s the surprising number of injuries to those that play game’s most important position.

Injuries are a part of the NFL. Each team battles through a number of injuries each year in a test of depth and grit. Yet, the injuries this season to the game’s quarterbacks have arguably reshaped the complexion of the league. The AFC playoffs will feature only 2 QB’s that have started each game this season while 14 of the league’s teams have seen their starting quarterback miss playing time due to injury.

Is this season just an anomaly or are we beginning to see the fruits of one of the ill-advised regulations of the 2011 CBA? One of the aims of the CBA was to promote more player safety by reducing off-season practice times by five weeks. The flip side of the coin appears to be offensive linemen not having enough time to refine their skill. Inevitably, this leads to the linemen not being as sharp when the bullets are live and thus more QB hits and injuries. The CBA isn’t solely to blame however.

Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable told ESPN Radio in May: “I’m not wanting to offend anybody, but college football, offensively, has gotten to be really, really bad fundamentally.” “Unfortunately, I think we’re doing a huge disservice to offensive football players, other than a receiver, that come out of these spread systems. The runners aren’t as good. They aren’t taught how to run. The blockers aren’t as good. The quarterbacks aren’t as good. They don’t know how to read coverage and throw progressions. They have no idea.”

Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden also expressed similar sentiment: “You’re getting a lot of young offensive linemen out of college these days that have never been in a three‑point stance, have never been in a huddle,” Gruden said. “They don’t have a real good background in how to get the stance and get out of a stance and pass protect, let alone pick up stunts, blitzes, handle audibles. It’s a whole new world. I think late in the season, no one’s wearing pads on the practice field. They don’t pad up on the practice field in training camp nearly like they used to. There are a lot of linemen changing teams more so than I’ve ever seen before … I think that’s why you see a lot of teams running dive options with built‑in bubble screens.”

At first, some thought this was partly a quarterback issue as well, particularly with young ones fresh out of the collegiate ranks. Jon Gruden expounded on this also: “I know a lot of quarterbacks have been under siege,” he said. “A lot of quarterbacks have been hit hard. A lot of the poor offensive line play has to do with poor quarterback play. You’ve got to be able to direct these protections. You’ve got to make the right calls. You have to make sure everybody’s on the same page. You also have to throw the ball away and not hold it very long in pro football. So I think the quarterback at times is truly responsible for the negative outcome on some of these plays I’ve seen.”

But this season, it isn’t just young quarterbacks getting punished. Veterans that know a thing or two about deciphering a defense have also taken a beating as well. Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco to name a few. What’s worse, is that a number of these players reflect the stardom power the league holds. As they go down, so does the overall performance of the league.

For the NFL, the implications could be more damaging than expected. Quarterbacks are the league’s most prized possessions. They’ve helped propel the league to a stratosphere never before seen. In the short-term, the NFL may be able to brush this season off as an anomaly, but the signs are becoming clearer and clearer. The NFL has a quarterback crisis.

Nice Try Mr. Brady

Nice try Mr. Brady. You almost had us convinced that you were innocent. That you weren’t the cheater we all thought you were. That the laws of science don’t apply to footballs. That we were all brainwashed by Roger Goodell into believing that you would deliberately break the rules then lie about it.

Nice try Mr. Brady.

Don’t get me wrong here. What Brady did has no bearing on what he physically accomplished on the field. Under-inflated footballs or not, he’s still an elite quarterback and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play football. However, as it is in most cases today, perception is reality. People perceive that Brady broke the rules and then tried to cover it up when it came time to face the music. Whether or not athletes feel responsible for it, the content of their character is sometimes weighted as much as their on-field accomplishments in the eyes of people. And with that, a lot of the collective respect NFL fans had for Mr. Brady has quickly evaporated. An innocent man doesn’t destroy his cell phone within a few days of meeting an investigator. But people wanted to give the NFL’s golden boy the benefit of the doubt. And to Brady’s credit, he tried giving them reasons to. From casually avoiding the question and claiming the “truth would come out” in his interview with Bob Costas to appearing before a group of Patriots fans and leading the charge of his own innocence, he made it appear there was no wrongdoing. The owner and head coach he plays for even came to his defense.

Nice try Mr. Brady.

Brady and co. could’ve easily avoided this. When the accusation rolled out before the Super Bowl, Brady could have come forth and simply stated the truth. Come clean and the league likely gives him a slap on the wrist and fines the organization for not being aware. Americans are forgiving by nature. We’ve forgiven plenty of athletes and the likes that’ve made mistakes and given them second chances. But instead, Brady’s arrogance led him to believe he was above reproach. He made it appear that by denying and lying about what happened, he could somehow get Roger Goodell to give up this tug-of-war game and convince all of us that he was untouchable.

Nice try Mr. Brady.

With the NFLPA receiving Brady’s permission to go ahead and file suit, his reputation is sealed. Regardless of the outcome of the case, Brady will have shown all of us that even though you may cheat and get punished for it, you can still end up a winner in court. Personally, I’ve had a lot of respect for what Brady has accomplished in the NFL. Up and until he tried to convince me that he wasn’t a cheater.

Nice try Mr. Brady.

4 Burning Questions Before Colts Training Camp

1. How will the Colts defensive line look?

Since Chuck Pagano’s arrival to Indianapolis, the defensive-minded coach has seen his defensive line be an Achilles Heel for the team. Former 1st round pick Bjorn Werner has yet to live up to expectations. Cory Redding will be playing in a different uniform while Josh Chapman has yet to record a sack since entering the league. The Colts made an attempt to bolster their defensive line in signing former St. Louis Rams player Kendall Langford. Langford will be in the 3-4 since 2011 with Miami where he claims to have played at his best. It will also be interesting to see how fellow rookies David Parry and Henry Anderson are implemented as well. But given that they are first year players, expectations should be tempered. The X factor in all of this will be Arthur Jones. Last season, an injury limited him to 9 games and visibly slowed him when he did play. However, when healthy, he is the Colts best interior defensive lineman. If the Colts plan to take the next step and win a world championship, a large part of that hinges on the play of their defensive line.

2. Who will stand out amongst a talented group of wide receivers?

Right now, the Colts most talent latent position is also one its most intriguing. Speedy rookie Phillip Dorsett turned heads at OTA’s while Andre Johnson looks to step in as the team’s replacement to Reggie Wayne. The Colts hope that Johnson can give them the same type of veteran presence that Wayne had given them. Second year upstart receiver Donte’ Moncrief is also looking to take a leap after showing promise his rookie year. Add this in with intriguing CFL product Duron Carter and you get a wide receiver competition that will be amongst the league’s most watched during training camp. And of course, this all without mentioning the team’s best receiver in T.Y. Hilton, whom has his spot securely locked as Luck’s primary weapon.

3. How will the Colts rushing attack take shape?

Much to the dismay of Colts fans everywhere, the Colts released Trent Richardson in the offseason (might just be a tad bit of sarcasm in there). With Richardson out, former 49er’s running back Frank Gore is in. It’s fair to assume that Gore will be the workhorse back but the real question lies in who’s behind him. Ahmad Bradshaw is gone as well and given his age, injuries and off field incident this offseason, it’s likely the Colts don’t bring him back. Vick Ballard returns in a contract year after two devastating knee injuries the past couple of seasons. It’ll be interesting to see what he has left in the tank after his rookie year showed some upside. Daniel “Boom” Herron returns after showing a few flashes towards of the end of the regular season. The Colts will keep a close on eye on Herron to see if his fumbling issue has improved. Zurlon Tipton looks to get more playing time after playing sparingly last season along with rookie Josh Robinson out of Mississippi State. All in all, the Colts running back position will be an interesting one to see develop.

4. Will the Colts offensive line finally click?

Arguably the biggest question heading into camp this year is how the Colts offensive line will take form. For much of last season, problems with protecting Andrew Luck remained at the forefront. It wasn’t until later in the year that the unit started to gel, with its best performance coming in the wildcard playoff game against the Bengals. Anthony Castanzo was the lone consistency on an otherwise roller coaster offensive line. Outside of Castanzo though, there are many questions to be answered. For one, how will Jack Mewhort fair at the right tackle position? Given the Colts decision to release Gosder Cherilius, it’s apparent that the Colts feel confident with Mewhort at that spot. Another position on the line to watch will be the center position. Last season, the position was a revolving door between A.Q. Shipley, Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison. It appears that the job is Holmes’s to lose heading into camp so we’ll see if he holds on to it. The Colts brought in longtime Philadelphia Eagle Todd Herremans to likely fill the right guard position. However, given his age, it’s fair to wonder if he will remain there all season. Lastly, the left guard position is up for grabs. While Hugh Thornton has played there, Lance Louis should also be looked at to start at a position that is notably its most weakest.

The Colts open camp to the public on Sunday August 2nd.