It’s official. One of the NFL‘s most prolific passers and two-time Super Bowl winner, Peyton Manning, will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Manning joins the likes of Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, and more recently Brett Favre, as the 15th quarterback elected in their first year of eligibility.
Reportedly, Peyton Manning received the news via Hall of Fame President David Baker several days before Saturday’s NFL Honors ceremony. After meeting virtually on January 19th, the Hall’s Selection Committee was tight-lipped right up until the week of Super Bowl LV. Regardless, the early news only validated everyone’s feelings. Once Manning was eligible, it was a foregone conclusion he’d be selected.
Peyton Manning is the embodiment of a first-ballot Hall of Famer
At the time of his retirement, Manning led the NFL in career passing yards (71,940) and touchdowns (539). His 2013 season, which yielded 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns (both records), remains the league’s greatest single season by a quarterback. To put it plainly — Manning is one of the very best to play the game.
That’s because Manning’s career was not just prolific. It was unprecedented. The man threw for 4,000 or more yards an NFL record 14 times in 18 seasons. For perspective, no other quarterback, current or retired, has more than 12 such seasons. Not to mention, Manning missed all of 2011 recovering from neck surgery.
His five Associated Press NFL MVPs are the most received by any one player. And to top it off, he’s held the Lombardi Trophy twice. Not only does Peyton Manning’s résumé scream first-ballot Hall of Famer, but it’s also arguably the most decorated of all currently enshrined quarterbacks.
The son of an NFL quarterback
When Manning chose to play quarterback for the University of Tennessee, it came with many upsetting phone calls and letters. You see, Manning’s father, Archie, played at Ole Miss. And Archie’s friends, associates, and fans knew they lost out on a special talent in signing Peyton.
As expected, Manning went on to have a stellar collegiate career. In four seasons, Manning threw for a Tennessee record 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns. Between 1994-1997, the Volunteers won 39 of the 45 games Manning was under center. Manning led the Volunteers to an SEC Championship following a 30-29 come-from-behind victory against Auburn in his senior season.
While Manning finished second in 1997 to fellow enshrinee Charles Woodson for the Heisman Trophy, it didn’t stop him from being drafted first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. Luckily for the Indianapolis Colts, Manning was favored over Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf. Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian got it right with Peyton Manning.
Off and running from day one
Peyton Manning’s Hall of Fame career didn’t get off to as prolific a start as you might imagine. In his first professional season, Manning started all 16 games, threw a league-high 28 interceptions, and the Colts finished 3-13. But that 1998 season wasn’t without promise. At that time, Manning’s 26 touchdown passes were an NFL rookie record, setting the stage for 16 consecutive years of 25 or more passing scores.
In just his second year in the league, Manning flipped the script in Indy. The Colts went from worst to first, netting 10 wins from the year before. Not to mention, Manning would get his first taste of the postseason and his first of 14 Pro Bowl selections.
At the time, it came as no surprise to see an inexperienced player like Manning falter when the lights were at their brightest. However, Manning’s regular season success often failed to carry over into the postseason — a popular commentary of his career.
In his sixth season, Manning was named the NFL’s most valuable player for the first time in his career. He’d also lead the Colts to his first Conference Championship appearance. Yet, Manning was roadblocked once again, registering a 35.5 passer rating in the biggest game of his life. Little did Manning know, the New England Patriots were just getting started. His path to becoming a Super Bowl champion would, more often than not, pass through Foxborough.
As long as Manning was under center, the Colts were contenders
Three years later, Manning and the Colts finally broke through, winning Super Bowl XLI. Manning’s career numbers were already riveting after just nine seasons. Now, Peyton Manning had a Super Bowl win and an MVP trophy to back them up. All the talk about lacking postseason success was put to bed.
Between 2007-2010, Manning threw for 17,242 yards and 124 touchdowns. He’d lead the Colts to 49 regular season wins and another Super Bowl appearance — his second with a different head coach. In 2011, the Colts rewarded Manning with a five-year, $90 million deal. At that time, no one envisioned Manning anywhere but Indianapolis.
Following offseason surgery in 2011, Manning’s throwing ability was noticeably weakened. He’d have to undergo additional neck surgery despite few guarantees that he’d ever play football again. While recovering, Manning sat out all of 2011, leaving the Colts without him under center for the first time in 14 years.
That 2011 season, Manning proved his worth without playing a single snap. The Colts went 2-14, and with the first overall selection locked up, the front office was forced to make a business decision.
Reluctantly, Manning and the Colts parted ways with an emotional press conference and an unofficial retiring of his jersey — made official in 2016. Manning, if able to play, was free to sign with any NFL team. Despite the injury concerns, Manning became one of the hottest free agent commodities the league had ever seen.
From blossoming Colts QB to ruthless Broncos QB
On March 20, 2012, Manning and the Denver Broncos reached an agreement to bring the marquee quarterback to the Rocky Mountain state.
In his first season post-surgery, Manning completed nearly 70% of his passes for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions. Manning was selected first-team All-Pro for the sixth time, as the Broncos went 13-3, winning the AFC West. He finished second in MVP voting and was awarded the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
In just his second season in Denver, Manning and the Broncos reached Super Bowl XLVIII. Two years removed from spinal fusion surgery, Manning put together one for the ages. To this day, no quarterback has topped Manning’s production from 2013 — and that’s saying something. With the league engrossed in throwing the football, passing marks seemingly fall with each passing year.
However, Manning and the Broncos would fail to capitalize, losing the season’s final game. And following a down-to-Earth 2014, you wondered if this horse had any more buck in him. However, he’d return in 2015. In what proved to be his final season, Manning was less than stellar. Still, Manning led the Broncos to seven of their 12 regular season wins — even if the defense did much of the legwork.
One last rodeo for the future Hall of Famer
In his final postseason hoorah, Manning mustered up enough gusto to run the table, limiting a propensity to turn the ball over in the process. At times, it was hard to believe this was the same quarterback from two seasons ago. Nonetheless, the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, and the future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, rode off into the sunset a champion.
Not only had Peyton Manning reached the Super Bowl with two different franchises, but he had won a ring donning two different uniforms — the sole quarterback to do so.
On March 7, 2016, Manning announced his retirement from football. He ended his speech with, “I’ve fought a good fight. I’ve finished my football race, and after 18 years, it’s time. God bless all of you, and God bless football.” Five years later, it’s time again. Time to honor one of football’s greatest students, players, and person of high character associated with the game.
Manning will be remembered as an intellectual juggernaut
By 2009, Manning had already accrued more than 45,000 passing yards, four first-team All-Pro selections, and a Super Bowl MVP award. Yet, he lacked a surefire nickname. Nothing says legendary like a sweet nickname. For instance, Montana was “Joe Cool.” And then you have Dan “The Man” Marino.
But other guys made names for themselves specific to their on-field play. Roger Staubach was deemed “Captain Comeback” during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. I’m sure you can figure out why. Not to mention, it isn’t easy to find nifty words that rhyme with Roger or Staubach. Manning’s name bore similar limitations.
Nevertheless, Manning carried his own unique calling card — pre-snap wizardry. No matter what you threw at him on defense, it wasn’t going to work. You could scheme and disguise, but you weren’t going to outsmart him. No matter the circumstance, you played by his rules. Manning laid down the law.
Hence, on a Monday night in Miami, Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden was working as an ESPN color commentator and referred to Manning as “The Sheriff.” As he often did, Manning was directing the offense like a maestro conducting an orchestra, and Gruden came out with it. Since then, it stuck.
That very night, Manning was sidelined for more than 45 minutes. However, the Indianapolis Colts’ offense came back four different times to defeat their opponent. For the opposing team, it was a valiant gameplan executed to near perfection.
The theory was that Manning couldn’t beat you if he weren’t on the field. However, all “The Sheriff” needed was 14 completions in under 15 minutes to garner more than 300 passing yards and two touchdowns. Like many times before and those still to come, Peyton Manning proved elite. He was destined for the Hall of Fame.
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