The saga of Peyton Manning’s neck surgery is unprecedented in how quickly it blossomed from minor offseason setback to permanent career-ending affliction, and the ratio of hysteria it’s created to factual information it’s provided is so far off the charts nobody knows what to think at this point.
Is this the beginning of the end for Manning? For the Colts?
For all of humanity?
Or is it just a tiny little hiccup in Manning’s storied career, one that winds up with little to no effect on the upcoming season and is all but forgotten before Thanksgiving even rolls around?
Whatever winds up happening, the hype we’ve all helped place on the injury is so substantial that now it must have some sort of impact on Manning’s career moving forward, and with all the uncertainty that still remains regarding the quarterback’s status in both the short and long terms, just what that effect might be is as much anybody’s guess as everything else is in this entire fiasco.
Here we’ll look at a few possible outcomes that just might result from Peyton Manning’s Great Big Pain in the Neck.
One totally plausible outcome for this fiasco is that the whole thing was blown completely out of proportion and that Manning continues his streak of stellar play despite the injury.
It’s really not that crazy a scenario, either, considering Manning has already overcome the same basic procedure before and hasn’t missed a single start in 13 seasons.
Even if he does miss the start and doesn’t come back until Week 7 (for remaining on the PUP list), however, he’ll still have the opportunity to return to form, finish the year strong and possibly make another memorable Playoff run, so with as much information as we have so far, it’s still way too early for anyone to be speculating what the aftermath of this mess is going to be. If the Colts are still playing in January with Manning behind center, after all, what difference will any of this make?
The answer is very little, and the answer as it relates to the quarterback’s lasting legacy is also very little, assuming that whenever Manning does take the field again he’s still just as sharp as we remember him.
As so many football pundits have been eager to point out, there’s a very real possibility this injury will be remembered as the beginning of the end for the great Peyton Manning.
Nothing coming out of the Colts organization has indicated this is expected to be a long-term problem, mind you, not even the signing of Kerry Collins, but because what information they have revealed has been so vague and mysterious, it’s only natural to assume we haven’t heard the whole story quite yet.
Like in 2008, when the Indianapolis Star revealed Manning’s knee problems were related to a staph infection, a detail conveniently withheld from the team’s initial disclosure of the illness.
That being the case, one can only wonder what information is being withheld regarding Peyton’s recovery this time around, and if the diagnosis ends up being more severe than originally thought, or the problem doesn't go away, or comes back at a later date, there’s a million possible ways this sob story could play out with the same inevitable result.
The fact is there’s only so much Manning’s body can take, and three surgeries in three years is definitely not a good sign.
The end may very well be near.
After all this ruckus, what if Manning suddenly decided to just hang up his cleats for good?
Yes, the possibility is so remote it’s insane to even think about at this point, but if athletes (especially quarterbacks) have taught us anything over the last two decades, it’s that retiring just for the hell of it is always a viable option, and the rule they’ve established for us so far is simply to expect the unexpected.
Everybody remembers when Michael Jordan just randomly stopped playing the sport he dominated, but athletes actually retire unexpectedly all the time, that’s just what they do. Granted, these days the term is applied so loosely nobody even bothers paying attention anymore when it happens, but it does indeed happen.
Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder just retired at the age of 27, for example, and while that in no way guarantees the NFL has seen the last of him, the announcement sure came from out of nowhere.
This guy was a third round pick in the ’05 draft. He wasn’t on track for the Hall of Fame or anything, but he was decent enough to keep playing if he wanted to, and as a guy who’s been playing football his entire life, he really had no reason to walk away. How many millions of reasons does Peyton have to walk away now, while he’s ahead, before he becomes a cripple, and at a point in time where people would always remember him at his very best?
It’s not like we didn’t already go through pretty much the same thing with Marvin Harrison, after all, the teammate to which Peyton Manning will be most forever linked.
After the Colts disclosed Harrison had a mysterious injury of his own, the guy was never quite the same again, and after the team released him he one day just decided it was time to call it quits.
Could Manning’s day be right around the corner too?
You heard it here first: If somehow after all this commotion Manning still makes the start in Week 1 and beats the Texans in Houston, we might just have an ESPN lovefest on our hands the likes of which we haven’t seen since Curt Schilling got that bloodstain on his sock.
At this point, Manning will be a hero just for showing up. The same guys who drafted him No. 1 overall a decade ago don’t even seem to have any confidence that he’ll play, that’s how bad it is. Some people say he’s finished. The season’s lost. The Colts should just throw in the towel and focus on landing Andrew Luck next year. And first and foremost, there’s no way Peyton Manning plays the Texans on Sept. 11. Out of the question.
Can you imagine the aftermath if Manning not only plays, but wins?
Forget about it.
This could be more than just a single heroic moment too, however, because if Peyton is then able to say he underwent three major procedures in three years and never missed a single start, that alone might put him at an almost Favre-like toughness level, even if he never actually matches the gunslinger’s century-long consecutive start streak.
Durability can be just as important to a quarterback’s legacy as anything else, after all (John Elway didn’t win the first of his two Super Bowls until age 37), so the opportunity to overcome this obstacle, in some strange twisted way nobody seems to be anticipating, could actually be the best thing that ever happened to Peyton Manning, or at least to the story of his career.
Let’s assume Manning misses the start, his streak ends at 227 (second longest in NFL history and still over 100 more than the third-longest streak), and he doesn’t make an appearance this season until Week 7. Six weeks off, six weeks of rest, six weeks he would normally spend hammering his aging body day after day after day.
Is this really such a bad thing?
At the age of 35, with 13 consecutive years’ worth of professional tackle football under his belt (including nine straight playoff appearances), isn’t it possible that some extra rest might actually do the man some good?
Two years off sure made a difference in Michael Vick’s career, for example, and after Tom Brady missed all but one quarter of the 2008 season with a knee injury, he’s since produced two of his three best statistical seasons and won a second career MVP award.
Could the Manning that shows up in October be a refreshed, rejuvenated version of himself, one better than we remember and more dangerous than we’ve ever seen?
The notion isn’t too far-fetched, and if that is indeed how it all plays out, the offseason crisis unfolding before our very eyes might actually wind up benefiting the Colts just as much as Manning himself: Peyton's best statistical game has come in his tenth contest or later six seasons in his career, and if he doesn’t start this year until Week 7 and the Colts still make the postseason, the team’s first playoff game will be the quarterback’s 11th outing of the year.
Now that’s scary.
As sad as it would be to see Manning’s streak of consecutive starts finally end, the chance to see a quarterback not named Curtis Painter try and run the show might actually be a good thing for the franchise quarterback’s legacy. A very good thing.
Like, maybe the best thing ever.
As Aaron Young pointed out last week, the Collins signing represents a fantastic opportunity for everyone to see just how much of the Colts’ remarkable success is a direct result of Manning’s abilities and just how much can be attributed to the talented cast around him.
The best part for Peyton, however, is that while his image will probably survive unscathed even if Collins succeeds (nobody thought any different of Tom Brady after backup Matt Cassel won 11 games with New England in 2008, after all), if he doesn’t, Manning’s legend can only grow as a result.
Say what you will about Kerry Collins, but the guy is at the very least adequate. You have to give him that. This will be his 17th year in the league, after all (obviously no easy feat), he’s thrown for over 40,000 yards, he’s been to the Super Bowl, and he’s played in a Pro Bowl as recently as 2008.
Collins has also proven his play can elevate when the conditions are right (he won 12 games with the 2000 Giants and 13 with the 2008 Titans) and even though he’ll turn 39 this December and hasn’t started a game since ’09, he’ll have the most talented receiving core he’s ever played with at his disposal and should be primed for success nonetheless.
In short, the guy sure ain’t Jim Sorgi, and while an underwhelming performance wouldn’t necessarily tarnish his own respectable resume, it sure could do a lot for the guy he’s replacing.
No matter how it happens, if this injury does signal the end of Manning’s career, it’s going to be very difficult to gauge where Peyton ranks among the all-time greats, and the real victims here just might be the scores of analysts and fans tasked with tackling that very issue.
Peyton changed the game, no question about it, he’s become a larger-than-life figure in his 13 seasons, and with the records he holds and the list of accomplishments to his credit, there’s already no way to have the greatest-quarterback conversation without mentioning his name.
If this were Manning’s last season, however, there just wouldn’t be enough data to definitively say where he belongs on that list, and it’s a real shame too, because until this little neck mishap he was still on track to own all the major passing records one day and potentially become the undisputed greatest, like the Michael Jordan of football or the Gretzky of the gridiron.
That all flies out the window if Peyton’s career ends earlier than expected, and if so, it actually threatens to pigeonhole him to a place in history somewhere above great but not quite the greatest. Or, at the very least, it will make his claim to the top spot much more difficult to support than if he’d have been able to stick around for just a few more years.
If Manning retired today, he’d be third in all-time passing yards, third in touchdown passes (he'll likely pass Dan Marino for second place this year), first in yards per game and fourth in completion percentage. He’d have a 9-10 playoff record with two Super Bowl appearances, one win and one Super Bowl MVP Award, and, probably more impressive than anything else the superstar has accomplished, his four league MVP awards are the most in NFL history.
All that’s nice and good, certainly enough to ensure Manning is always considered among the game’s greatest players, but as impressive as his accolades may be, you can’t help but feel that at this point he’s just one MVP award or one Super Bowl win away from settling the discussion for good, or at least for the foreseeable future.
To come this close just to fall slightly short would be absolutely mortifying.