“We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t…we don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.”
The famous line from 2011’s Moneyball kept echoing in my mind almost every time Denver Broncos quarterback took a snap in Sunday’s AFC playoff game. Granted, the quote was about baseball and pro football is certainly no kid’s game, yet one has to respect the similarities. When players start, they are just children and as they grow and progress, play the game as men until one day the spirit is still willing, but the body, finished.
I have all the respect in the world for Manning, however the truth is plain to see for even the most casual sports fan. Manning has had three great seasons in Denver, all resulting in post season play, but when it’s come time for the big payoff Manning has failed. Can he still play the game at a competitive level? Absolutely. Would Manning actually be able to bring the Broncos to another Superbowl and victory? No. That window has passed. The now 38-year-old quarterback is not only nearing the unspoken age limit of play, but filtering in the fact he’s also had major neck surgery a few years ago really sets the stage for Manning’s retirement.
Next year’s Denver Broncos may be a very visually different team and even head coach John Fox’s job may be in question. This decision will obviously affect Manning and if he’s open to learning an entirely new system. The case for retirement for the veteran player builds as the Broncos prepare to pay Manning $19 million in 2015.
Manning has stated he planned on returning, however after Sunday’s game he apparently said he’s going to “wait and see” according to CBS’s Jim Nantz who talked to Manning in the fourth quarter. That may be just a sound bite in order to put out his feelings to the Broncos decision makers about off-season moves or it may in fact be a man contemplating if he can still play on a competitive level.
Taking nothing away from an exceptional Colt’s defense, the mechanics of Manning’s play not only on Sunday but the majority of the second half of the season shines a spot light on a man who’s clearly nearing the end of his career. He’s faced tough defenses. No question. Yet, this is Peyton Manning, one of the greatest to play the quarterback position in NFL history. He clearly is not the man that arrived in Denver three years ago.
Make no mistake that Manning can still play. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say the man can still play at a higher level than most other quarterbacks in the league. The problem? Manning isn’t paid to have a great regular season only to have his weak spots exposed when it counts. A man like Manning is hired to get to and win the Superbowl. Manning is now in the stage of his career that saw Joe Montana play for the Chiefs or Brett Farve for the New York Jets. Great enough for a team with no real signal caller, but not at the level of a team that is committed to winning pro football’s most coveted prize.
Peyton Manning was and is one of the greatest players to put on a helmet. Something tells me that somewhere beyond the money and accolades, if Manning can’t perform at a level that can still win a Superbowl, he will retire. There may in fact be something telling in a response the player had after the game.
During the post game interview, a reporter asked Manning if he could say with certainty that he would indeed be back next season. Manning evaded a bit and eventually could not say he would be back. He’s apparently thought about the idea.
Just like the ones that came before him, that were indeed told by an internal voice that they could no longer play the children’s game.