Before he was in seemingly every other commercial during an NFL game, Peyton Manning was putting together a Hall of Fame career. Manning is considered one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and he has the stats, and rings, to prove it. Peyton comes from a football family, but he has had his own journey. Here is the story of Peyton Manning’s career, from his famed father to his post-playing career.
The son of NFL quarterback Archie Manning, Peyton had football in his blood. While Peyton’s older brother Cooper had to quit football in high school due to spinal stenosis, Peyton would wear his number 18 in his honor at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans. Manning started for three years at Newman, and was such a highly-sought recruit that reportedly 60 schools expressed interest in him.
Many thought that Manning would go to Ole Miss, which is where his father Archie played. It’s also where Peyton’s younger brother Eli would go to college. However, Peyton instead decided to become a Tennessee Volunteer. College football fans being what they are, there are a lot of Ole Miss fans who were upset by this decision.
When Manning was a freshman, he started the season as the third-string quarterback despite the recruiting battle. In the season opener, starter Jerry Colquitt suffered a season-ending injury, getting Manning his first college action. In the end, though, Todd Helton – yes the future baseball star – became the new starter. Then, in the fourth game of the season Helton got hurt and Peyton stepped in as the starter. He would remain the starter for the rest of his college career.
Manning and the Volunteers had a lot of success in 1995 and 1996, including winning two Citrus Bowls. In fact, they finished third in the rankings after the 1995 season. And yet, Tennessee couldn’t get over the hump? The problem? Losses to the Florida Gators, who beat them both seasons and kept Manning and Tennessee out of the SEC title game. Also, we would be remiss not to note that during the 1996 season Peyton was accused of sexual misconduct by a female trainer. Peyton, Archie, and writer John Underwood would then denigrate her repeatedly in a book the three wrote together, leading to a defamation lawsuit that would be settled out of court.
While people were saying that Peyton would be the top pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, he decided to return to college to try and win a title and a Heisman. The Volunteers made it to the SEC Championship Game and beat Auburn in the game. The problem? Tennessee had lost to Florida once again, so the team was only ranked third headed into bowl season. The Volunteers played the second-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl, and a win could have got them a title. Instead, they lost. And on top of that, Manning ended up finishing second in the Heisman voting to Charles Woodson.
Famously, there was a debate about the top pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Would the Indianapolis Colts take Manning, or would they take Ryan Leaf from Washington State? In the end, the Colts took Manning, and Leaf went second to the Chargers. Leaf is now remembered as one of the biggest busts of all time.
The Colts put a lot of Peyton’s plate as a rookie, and while he was largely up to the task there were ups and downs. Perhaps it’s best exemplified by two stats. He set a new record for touchdown passes for a rookie quarterback with 26, but he also set the rookie records for interceptions with 28.
The 1999 season was a completely different situation for Manning and the Colts. The team improved by a whopping 10 games, going from 3-13 to 13-3 in the blink of an eye. Manning himself led the team on seven game-winning drives. Peyton made his first Pro Bowl, but the Colts lost to the Titans in the playoffs after a first-round bye.
After a few solid seasons and Pro Bowl appearances, Manning finally took home his first MVP in 2003. Peyton completed more passes than any quarterback and finished with 4,267 yards and 29 touchdowns. Manning actually ended up sharing the MVP with Steve McNair, but he still took home the hardware.
Manning won an MVP in the 2003 season, and the Colts won their first two playoff games. Then, they faced the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. It was the first of many big matchups between Peyton and the Colts and Tom Brady and the Patriots. Unfortunately, Manning’s MVP couple save him from throwing four picks in a 24-14 loss.
Peyton would rebound quite nicely from that tough playoff loss. Manning had some incredible games, including throwing six touchdowns against the Lions on Thanksgiving, en route to finishing with a record 49 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Peyton won the MVP with 49 of the 50 votes. Then, in the playoffs, once again the Colts lost to the Patriots.
Peyton began the 2006 season facing his brother Eli and the Giants, the first-ever game with two brothers as starting quarterbacks. It ended with Manning hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time. Though the Colts were behind 21-3 to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Manning led a comeback to get to the Super Bowl where Indy handled the Chicago Bears.
In 2008, Manning led the Colts to at least 12 wins for the sixth-straight season, and threw for over 4,000 yards for the ninth time. That helped him win his third MVP, tying Brett Favre for the most ever. The playoff run was brief that year, as the Colts lost to the Chargers in overtime in the first round. Tony Dungy retired, and an era ended in Indianapolis.
Fortunately for the Colts, Manning proved more important to their success than Dungy. The Colts started the season by winning 14-straight games before dropping the final two with starters resting. Peyton completed 68.8 percent of his passes, highest in his career, en route to a record-breaking fourth MVP. Indianapolis went back to the Super Bowl, but took the loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Manning signed a new contract with the Colts prior to the 2011 season, but he would never take the field for the team again. Peyton had neck surgery that offseason and afterward he could not complete his throwing motion. It turned out that Manning needed spinal fusion surgery and may never play again. Manning was declared out for the season and released by the Colts in March of 2012, paving the way for Andrew Luck.
Despite concerns about his health, a few teams really wanted to sign Peyton in the 2012 offseason. Manning visited the Cardinals and the Broncos, but Hall of Famer John Elway was able to get Peyton to sign with Denver.
It turned out Manning could still play quarterback just fine. In 2012 he threw for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. However, 2013 was the truly magical year in Denver. Peyton threw for a staggering 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, both NFL records. He won his fifth MVP and took the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Denver got obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks, but from an individual perspective this was an incredible campaign.
By 2015 Manning was not the quarterback he used to be. His arm had been diminished and he could no longer carry the team. Instead, the Broncos were a team built on defense. Manning was only able to play in 10 regular season games, and he threw nine touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions. Peyton was the quarterback in the playoffs, though, and he was merely managing the game. In the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, Manning threw for only 176 yards, but two touchdowns and no picks. The Broncos got the Super Bowl win.
After 18 seasons, many surgeries, and becoming the first quarterback to lead two different franchises to a Super Bowl victory as a starter, Manning saw the writing on the wall. Peyton retired after that Super Bowl victory with Denver, finishing with 14 Pro Bowl appearances and seven spots on the All-Pro First Team.
Manning may be retired, but you still see him all the time. In fact, it was not uncommon to see Peyton off the football field even when he was playing. Manning has been a pitchman for many companies, appearing in commercials left and right. There has also been a lot of talk of Peyton eventually becoming a broadcaster, but so far he seems happy shilling insurance and pizza.