We’ve known for months that this might very well be Peyton Manning’s final season. The five-time MVP had the worst season of his career in 2015, amid plantar fascia in his foot that caused him to miss six games.
But Peyton had not yet said anything to suggest he was ready to call it quits, until a TV camera picked up Manning’s interaction with Patriots coach Bill Belichick following the Broncos’ AFC Championship victory.
“Hey, listen, this might be my last rodeo, so it sure has been a pleasure,” Manning told Belichick.
Their 20th career showdown?
Might've been the last.
— NFL (@NFL) January 26, 2016
Belichick responded by saying “You’re a great competitor,” followed by something not quite audible that could have been “You’re a helluva guy.”
Manning probably did not imagine he would end up announcing his retirement in a private interaction between himself and his nemesis accidentally broadcast into millions of homes, but that’s pretty much what happened.
Of course, Peyton didn’t say for sure he’s retiring, only that this “might” be his final go-round, but it makes sense he’d ride off into the sunset after the Super Bowl. His play has clearly declined, and the Broncos appear ready to give a shot to back-up Brock Osweiler. And it seems unlikely he’d be going around thanking his enemies if he weren’t pretty sure he was hanging up his cleats.
Manning holds the NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns and ranks second all-time in completions. He’s in a virtual tie with Tom Brady for the title of best quarterback of all-time, and a Super Bowl victory to cap his career would only bolster a legacy that needs no help.
A month ago it looked like Manning might retire on the heels of a terrible season, a benching, an injury and a report of HGH use. Instead, with his starting spot restored and the PED allegations discredited, he could go out holding the Lombardi Trophy.