SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It was a storybook ending to one of the greatest careers in sports history, a Super Bowl victory for a future Hall of Fame quarterback after a trying season when he put up the worst numbers of his career and sat out much of the season with an injury. What a way for Peyton Manning to go out.
The 39-year-old Manning wasn’t about to say this was his last game after the Denver Broncos upset the Carolina Panthers 24-10 Sunday in Super Bowl 50.
“You know I’ll take some time to reflect,” he said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
There was an audible groan among the media when Manning said those words. Most folks figured Manning would announce his retirement after the game, especially if his team won. They were hoping to get a more definitive answer from the quarterback, who has set numerous passing records in his storied 17-year NFL career.
Instead, Manning left it up in the air, saying he’ll have to talk it over with family and make the decision after he celebrates the unexpected Super Bowl victory and season.
“This game was like the season has been,’’ he said. “It tested our toughness, our resilence and unselfisheness. It’s only fitting it turned out that way.”
Indeed it was fitting that Manning came out on top in Super Bowl 50, the first to use a number rather than a Roman numeral. It was probably the most hyped of all time with every Super Bowl MVP being introduced before Sunday’s game — 39 in all, including some multiple MVP winners and a handful of the older ones on video from their homes as well as Manning, who was warming up on the field at the time.
It was certainly the most guarded and most secure Super Bowl of all time. You couldn’t get within miles of the stadium with cars, as fans were urged to use public transportation, trains, light rail and buses to get to the stadium. Main roads were even blocked off as far away as Mountain View 10 miles to the northwest.
Police and security were everywhere around the stadium with police dogs in plain view, and helicopters could be seen circling the stadium throughout the afternoon and evening.
Once you got to the stadium, no food or drinks were allowed as piles of popcorn balls, candy and water bottles piled up outside the gates. Even the media entry was way worse than normal where uniformed guards actually looked in every pocket of your bags for a change and media had to go through not one, but two detectors, the second a special machine to make sure your face matched up with your credential.
The day couldn’t have been much nicer for the actual game with clear blue skies and 72-degree temperatures at kickoff with a steady breeze flapping the flags.
Unlike two years ago in an embarrassing 43-8 loss to Seattle when the Broncos got off to a nightmarish start — a ball centered over Manning into the end zone for a safety — this time Manning and the Broncos looked sharp from the beginning.
First, Manning hit Owen Daniels with an 18-yard pass, followed up by completions to Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Caldwell. The Broncos got down to the Panthers’ 16-yard line where they stalled and had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus. That was a good omen since 33 of the previous 49 Super Bowl winners had scored first.
The defense provided the only touchdown of the first half and the Broncos added another field goal later in the half, set up by a record 61-yard punt return by Jordan Norwood to go up 13-7.
In the second half, the Broncos and Panthers traded field goals until the Denver defense came up big again, forcing the fourth turnover of the game. With 3:08 left in the game, the Broncos finally put it in the end zone.
Manning’s numbers were nothing to shout about — 13 of 23 completions for 141 yards with an interception — but thanks to the Denver defense, the Broncos prevailed.
Manning, who had only won one Super Bowl in four tries, is now tied with his little brother, Eli, who hasn’t done anywhere close to what Peyton has done in his NFL career, but had already won two Super Bowls.
While we’re certainly going to keep hearing Manning singing “Nationwide is on your side” incessantly on television commercials, whether he retires or not, the question is, will we ever hear “Omaha” again from Manning?
Perhaps Manning will do what his boss, Denver general manager John Elway, did after winning his second Super Bowl in 1998. He announced his retirement three months after the Super Bowl at the age of 38.
Manning is already a year older at 39, and if he’s smart, he’ll hang up the cleats and go out on top as a winner, like very few athletes have the chance to do.
It’ll be a storybook ending — just a little later than we all wanted.