Peyton Manning had his worst NFL season. He struggled. He was benched. He even faced accusations of HGH use.
Yes, it was a strange year for Manning. But when the clock struck zero on Super Bowl 50, none of that mattered.
The Denver Broncos, fueled by yet another masterful defensive performance, scored a 24-10 victory over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium to capture their first Super Bowl title since 1998.
Given how well Newton and company had played this season, few thought Denver had much of a chance.
The same was said of Manning. After a turbulent season filled with lots of ups and downs, we never thought this would be his final destination.
But there’s no doubt that it’s fitting.
Manning is truly one of a kind. We will never see a player like him again. There are so many things that make him unique that it’s impossible to list them all.
Greatness isn’t always easy to describe. Sometimes words don’t do it justice.
And that’s why it seemed natural that when Manning walked off the field for the final time, he’d be carrying the most prestigious trophy in his sport.
That’s exactly what he did.
He’s had his critics over the years. He’s lost a lot of playoff games that many thought he should have won. He was never able to match his rival Tom Brady’s four Super Bowl rings. And so on.
Those are all true. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that Manning is one of the greatest players to ever step onto a football field.
To play at such an elite level for so many years takes an insane amount of work and dedication.
It’s the reason why not all athletes can reach the pinnacle of their sport. Reaching that level requires a little extra something. It requires doing the work that no one else is willing to do.
Manning did that work. He was the coach on the field that every coach on the sideline dreams of.
Not only did he know the ins and outs of his own position, but he knew what everyone else needed to be doing.
Manning was an artist with total control of his craft. He spent day after day honing every minor nuance. He wanted to be the best.
And maybe, just maybe, he is.
People will judge players based on different criteria. So there will never be an official greatest player in NFL history.
That doesn’t change the fact that, for most people, Manning is in that discussion.
Although greatness is hard to fully describe in words, you know it when you see it.
Years and years of wanting to be great led Manning to his Hollywood ending. Even when his back was against the wall and everyone counting him out, he defied the odds and captured that elusive second Super Bowl trophy.
It was the only way it could end.
The Sheriff riding off into the sunset having saved the day one final time.