I still enjoy playing football. I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point coming off that surgery, and I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the important part of it. Everybody enjoys the games, and everybody's going to be excited to play in the Super Bowl. —Peyton Manning
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Peyton Manning might have a few years left in his record-breaking right arm.
So, the idea that he could ride into retirement with another Super Bowl ring? Well, that's not even a thought for the Denver quarterback.
"If I can't produce, if I can't help the team, that's when I'll stop playing," Manning said Sunday. "If that's next year, maybe it is, but I certainly want to continue to keep playing."
The AFC champion Broncos arrived in New Jersey on Sunday to start preparing for the big game next week against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium. Manning, at a news conference aboard the Cornucopia Majesty cruise ship docked outside the team hotel, said he has no plans beyond next Sunday's Super Bowl.
It's hard to blame him after a season in which he set NFL records with 55 touchdown passes and 5,447 yards while leading the league's top-ranked offense. Manning is trying to become the first starting QB to win Super Bowls with two teams, an accomplishment that seemed a bit of a long shot after he underwent two career-threatening neck surgeries two years ago.
"I still enjoy playing football," Manning said. "I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point coming off that surgery, and I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the important part of it. Everybody enjoys the games, and everybody's going to be excited to play in the Super Bowl.
"But I think when you still enjoy the preparation, I think you probably still ought to be doing that."
Manning is the favorite to win his fifth league MVP award, and is the indisputable face of this year's Super Bowl — the first in which the Broncos have played since John Elway won the second of consecutive titles in 1999.
After that victory, 34-19 over the Atlanta Falcons, Elway retired from the game a champion. Manning has spoken to Elway, now his boss in the Broncos front office, about walking away from the game after winning a ring. He has also spoken to former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who did the same last year after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.
They talked about how great a feeling it is, being able to go out on top, but Manning noted that there is a major difference between their situations and his.
"In talking to Ray Lewis and in talking with John Elway, they couldn't play anymore," Manning said. "That was all they had to give, and they truly left it all out there. I certainly had a career change two years ago with my injury and changing teams, so I truly have been kind of on a one-year-at-a-time basis. So, I really have no plans beyond this game. I had no plans coming into this season beyond this year.
"I think that's the healthy way to approach your career at this stage."
For those who work with Manning every day, they have no doubt the 37-year-old quarterback still approaches the game with the enthusiasm of a youngster.
"Absolutely, you can just tell he enjoys it and he loves it," said wide receiver Wes Welker, wearing an eye-catching bright orange suit. "He loves being around the guys. He loves the game-planning. He loves Sundays. You can just tell all of the aspects of the game he really enjoys.
"It's great to see and it definitely inspires me as well."
John Fox will be participating in his second Super Bowl as a head coach, and first since his Carolina Panthers lost to the New England Patriots in the 2004 game. He was sidelined a month earlier this season after needing open-heart surgery, so he knows a few things about quick comebacks.
But even he has been impressed by what Manning has been able to accomplish in two seasons with the Broncos.
"He's a tremendous, tremendous player as well as a guy, as far as what he went through," Fox said. "It's a pretty different injury that he experienced. To work back and to learn a new offense, learn a new football team, learn a new city and two years later be in the Super Bowl is pretty incredible.
"I hope that's glowing enough."
The Broncos, greeted by hundreds of bundled-up fans decked out in blue and orange outside the Hyatt Jersey City, also got a frosty taste of the bitterly cold weather — it was about 25 degrees when they arrived — they might have to play through next Sunday in East Rutherford. The game at MetLife Stadium will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather site.
"I don't mind," said smiling cornerback Champ Bailey, playing in the first Super Bowl of his 15-year career. "I'm used to Super Bowls being in better-weather cities, but I don't really care. When it's time to play, it's time to play."
And, after a long day of traveling from Denver to New Jersey that included two bus rides, a 3-plus-hour flight and a whirlwind interview session on a boat, the Broncos are ready to focus again on football. No matter the weather.
"We couldn't be more excited," Manning said. "The Super Bowl, it's a big deal. I know how hard it is to get here."
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