Peyton Manning is on his way for a second Super Bowl title, a feat that is all the more stunning when you consider he might not even be here if it weren't for the encouragement of his wife, Ashley Manning.
You almost lose sight of the one unbelievable storyline lost amid the media frenzy of the week before the Super Bowl. You almost lose yourself in the silliness of the Richard Sherman debate, Marshawn Lynch's odd media day departure and a wealth of inanity that hardly matters to the game at hand.
Then, it strikes you with a familiar thud: Manning was very nearly on his way out of the game just a few short years ago.
That particular subplot has been analyzed so often that it nearly rivals Manning's iconic "Omaha!" blast from the lines on the list of things fans discuss when the quarterback is mentioned.
However, there is a wonderful story that really touches on where Manning might get a great deal of his confidence, faith and support heading into Sunday—outside of the locker room, of course.
Peter King, in a Week 15 MMQB.com column, touched upon the news that Manning received Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year honor.
That kind of accolade brought back the obvious struggles the Broncos quarterback had with his neck injury just a couple years prior.
The season was nearly wrapped up, as Manning was on his way to what would become a record-breaking season, finishing with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing (a result that wasn't without some controversy).
Having such success at age 37 begged an important question. King asked: "Was there one moment in that process when you said, It’s not going to happen?"
Manning's answer reveals a great deal about his relationship with his wife:
Yeah. Ashley [his wife] and I actually had those conversations. More than one. Because, you know, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Because, they’re signing you and people are thinking they’re getting the player they had always seen before. And so, Ashley was the one that was saying, ‘Peyton, you’ve got to try. You’ve got to try.’ With this injury, nothing was happening. Nothing. For weeks. There was no progress. It was so frustrating. And really, I had a peace about it. I had a peace. Because, I had this unbelievable string of health for 20 years—since I was 15 years old as a sophomore in high school. So who was I to complain now that I’m injured? I’ve given it as good a run as I can give it. I’ve got kids now. I had a peace about it. So I didn’t feel like I had to play to get another win or a touchdown. But she’s like, ‘You’ve got to try.’ So I was glad that she pushed me to do it. Once I did it, I was going at it, and then I started seeing a little bit of light there. So, yeah, she was the one who kind of pushed me through it.
We now know Manning is indeed every bit as much the quarterback he was while leading the Colts, finishing off what might be his most successful season.
Judy Burnett gives a thorough breakdown of the Mannings early relationship in an article entitled "Meet Mrs. Manning."
The article touches upon Manning's upbringing and her dedication to charitable causes, something she still maintains more readily as vice president of her husband's Peyback Foundation, an organization that promotes "the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk."
Before deciding on the University of Tennessee, Manning went on a recruiting trip to the area, a moment that led to the two meeting.
Ashley and the future football star hit it off and eventually married on St. Patrick's Day in 2001. Save some rare photo opportunities, such as 2012's Super Bowl Wives Fashion Show, Ashley stays largely in the background, which is by design.
Burnett quotes Ashley, who once stated, "I like to stay out of the spotlight. People may think I am aloof, but I'm not, and I am not shy by any means, but I always let Peyton shine."
Years later, she would help her husband shine brightly once again, pushing him to give the NFL and the amazing opportunity afforded in Denver a shot.
With one little push, football fans have been witness to something truly special and amazing. Perhaps, some thanks is in order on our part as well.
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