Peyton Manning Retirement Debate Takes over Super Bowl Heading into Big Game

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2014

JERSEY CITY, NJ - JANUARY 29:    Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos speaks to the media during an availability January 29, 2014 in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will meet at Super Bowl XLVIII at Metlife Stadium on February 2, 2014. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The good news is the "Richard Sherman rant" silliness seems to have dissolved into a not-so-distant memory. The bad news is we have a new craze sweeping media row: Peyton Manning retirement talk. 

It's not often that you see a quarterback heading to the Super Bowl who tossed over 50 touchdowns for the season. And it's rare to find one still commanding so much success at the ripe age of 37. Consider that Manning had four neck surgeries before his stint with the Broncos, and all bets are off. 

And so a football-crazed world wants to know like mad if Sunday will culminate in what has been simply an amazing career for the game's best quarterback.  

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 28:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos speaks to the media during Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day at the Prudential Center on January 28, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey.  Super Bowl XLVIII will be played between the Seattle
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Retirement and all variations thereof have taken over the Super Bowl chatter, nearly replacing our collective affection for commercials and reasonably priced avocados. 

And so Manning addressed the scuttlebutt that he might just get on his figurative horse and ride off into the sunset if he wins on Sunday. 

USA Today, The Washington Post and many others picked up on some interesting things Manning has had to say in Sunday's press conference; More specifically, his thoughts on what comes next (via The Washington Post's Cindy Boren): 

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Well, I know there’s a number of players that have walked away as champions, and I’m sure that’s a great feeling for those people. John Elway, Ray Lewis did it last year, Michael Strahan. In talking to Ray Lewis and in talking to John Elway, they couldn’t play anymore. That was all they had to give. They truly left it all out there.

I certainly had a career change two years ago with my injury, with changing teams, and so I truly have been kind of a one-year-at-a-time basis. So I really have no plans beyond this game, had no plans coming into this season beyond this year. I think that’s the healthy way to approach kind of your career at this stage.

While many believe this means Manning is prepared to toss 50 more touchdowns next season, there are some, like Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, who believe we are about to see the last of Manning the QB. 

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

In his Ten-Point Stance column, Freeman discusses the preceding quote and offers the following:

I don't believe it for a second, and I can tell you few people around the NFL believe it. Almost everyone thinks Manning is gone if he wins and plays well in the victory. In fact, many believe Manning is gone, win or lose. 

The belief around football is that Manning is saying he hasn't made up his mind because he doesn't want to be the story of Super Bowl week.

So, perhaps it's a good idea to savor every last second on Sunday—not a bad idea no matter the possible bombshell that might loom in its aftermath. 

The idea of retirement was again brought up in an interview with Dan Patrick when the host asked whether a win meant the end of his career: 

Manning states, "Really (a win) has no impact on whether I play again...I'm really enjoying playing football again." He goes on to reiterate that those stars who left the game after a Super Bowl victory had nothing left in the ol' gas tank, speaking like a man who still has something to prove and play for—at least to himself. 

There is also a quick throwaway line of "maybe next year, probably need to change it up" in regards to his iconic "Omaha" call, which speaks volumes about a man who is looking forward to the immediate future and not beyond. 

There are still visions of success beyond Sunday's game in those eyes, and he's talking like a man with passion for the game and the skill to dominate it.  

To that end, he shrugged off the term "legacy," a word that connotes that the tome that is his career has been already written in full.

Here he is with Deion Sanders, later discussing his "legacy" with reporters in the video:

If you are looking for Manning to tease some sort of farewell, you have come to the wrong press conference: 

I've been being asked about my legacy since I was about 25 years old. Which, I'm not sure you can have a legacy when you're 25 years old, or even 37. I thought you had to be like 70 to have a legacy. So, I'm not even 100 percent sure what the word even means.

I'm still in the middle of my career. Let me rephrase that. I'm down the homestretch of my career, but I'm still in it. It's not over yet. And so it's still playing out. This has been the second chapter of my career, and it's an exciting chapter. 

A nice sentiment, but then you have a report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen that signals the end may be out of Manning's hands and more in his neck: 

If the exam reveals that his neck is stable, Manning plans to return to the Broncos in 2014, regardless of how Denver fares this postseason, according to sources.

But if there is an increased risk of injury, Manning will be forced to decide whether to retire, sources said.

The only thing we know with any certainty, and it will hardly satisfy any measure of curiosity, is only Manning knows whether he is preparing to take the field one final time. 

No amount of interviews or pressure will shake an answer from a man who prepares for questions about as well as he does for defenses. 

Let's just say that the end is indeed near. It could be a year from now or this weekend, but the timing will hardly make it easier to see one of the best to ever play the position leave. 

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