SAN JOSE, Calif. — Peyton Manning wasn’t going to bark out his intentions like he does the audible “Omaha,” or sing them the way he does endorsements for insurance.
But the more the Broncos quarterback spoke during Monday night’s prime-time media gathering at SAP Center, the more it likely it seemed that Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 game against the Panthers would be his last.
He said, with sweetness, how excited he was that his brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning, would be on the field when the NFL honors every living Super Bowl MVP. He wondered if maybe the two could take a picture together Sunday.
Manning reveled in the moment, a trick he learned when coming back from a torn plantar fascia that cost him six games this season. He held a reception for the Broncos offensive players at the hotel Sunday night and enjoyed a long dinner with his teammates.
If this is “The Sheriff’s” last mosey into the sunset, he plans to enjoy the view.
To articulate his intentions, though, would violate the first rule of Super Bowl week — don’t say anything that develops a life of his own.
He insisted that the decision had not been made yet, despite a report he told his friends he would retire. He defended his presumed private moment with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, captured on video after the AFC championship, was never a definitive sentence. He said it “might be my last rodeo,” leaving wiggle room despite a season’s worth of wobbly passes that state, emphatically, otherwise.
“I haven’t made my mind up, but I don’t see myself knowing that until after the season,” he said. “Whatever cliché you wanna use, to kinda stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand and deal with this week.”
Manning must envy his boss, John Elway, who retired after two Super Bowl victories.
“He’s got plenty of time to make up his mind with what he wants to do in the near future,” said the former quarterback, now the Broncos GM.
“It doesn’t have to get in the way now, even though everyone wants to know now. He doesn’t need to make that decision.”
Win or lose, the timing seems right. In 10 regular season games this season, he threw nine touchdowns, 17 interceptions and for a passer rating of 67.9 that ranked 34th among qualified quarterbacks. His backup, Brock Osweiler, has a contract that expires this offseason but appears better suited to run coach Gary Kubiak’s offense from under center.
The injury cost Manning — who turns 40 in March — six games before he returned in the second half to lead the team in a Week 17 win against the Chargers.
Weeks earlier, Al Jazeera reported in December that Manning’s wife Ashley received shipments of human growth hormone in 2011 while her husband worked to recover from a series of neck injuries.
Monday, he called the allegation “completely fabricated” and “complete junk,” and promised the NFL’s investigation into the claims would result “a bit fat nothing.”
“His character stays strong,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “Through everything, man — everybody trying to get on him and jump on him and say, ‘This is the last time we’ve seen Peyton Manning. It’s in the past. Peyton Manning is done.’”
Manning won’t be asked to throw 36 times through the first three quarters, the way he did nine years ago in the Colts’ 29-17 Super Bowl win against the Bears.
One of the game’s great quarterbacks, Manning’s final act might be best remembered for learning how to deal with not being great.
“I know he’s an unbelievable player, competitor — everybody knows that,” said rookie quarterback and Northwestern alum Trevor Siemian.
“But seeing somebody handle themselves when things aren’t going their way — that’s where I’ve been most impressed with Peyton.”
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