Peyton Manning decided to end his football career this weekend. Only he didn’t.
Winning the Super Bowl and losing the battle with Father Time made the decision for him. Even if the leaks regarding his retirement dried up before ever hitting the public, today’s decision would come across as a fait accompli.
It also comes across as right. Peyton Manning deserved to go out a winner. After rewriting the record book — setting the standard for passing yards and touchdowns in both a season and a career — coming up short repeatedly against Tom Brady and carrying a losing record in Super Bowls defined him to distortion. Even if he played game manager and not gunslinger in Santa Clara, the triumph rights the wrongs of past defeats and puts the player in proper perspective as an all-time great. It forces losers to call him something other than what others call them.
The retirement after the Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers erases an ugly end to a beautiful career. It’s possible that the last images we remembered from Peyton Manning involved him completing nine passes, four to the opposition, for 35 yards against Kansas City or holding a clipboard for Brock Osweiler. But he got up, as his game teaches, after getting knocked down. Al Jazeera attempted to muddy him further through allegations regarding human-growth hormone. And when that didn’t work, a Black Lives Matter activist recycled 20-year-old allegations about a teenage Manning acting like a crude teenager by exposing himself to a female trainer.
For fifteen minutes of the news cycle, such smear stories seemed to threaten Manning’s legacy. Then the ticker-tape fell and the silver football atop an obelisk rose.
That’s the awesome ending an amazing quarterback deserved. Because of Peyton Manning’s announcement today to end his career, that wonderful coda in Santa Clara still reverberates rather than the shrill noise of John Elway announcing Manning’s release or of the QB (in Houston Texans gear) shrieking next season after enduring another hit by a man half his age and double his size. Fans didn’t get Joe Namath wearing a Rams jersey or Ken Stabler sporting a fleur-de-lis on his helmet or Johnny Unitas in Charger Blue.
We got an ending fit for a champion.