There are certain moments that define a player’s career.
The first career-defining moment for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning came in Super Bowl XLI when he led the Indianapolis Colts to victory over the Chicago Bears.
It was Manning’s first Super Bowl title. Nine years later, it’s still his only Super Bowl title.
That could change on Sunday in San Francisco when Manning leads the Broncos into a highly-anticipated matchup with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
There has been a lot of speculation that this will be Manning’s final NFL game. If so, it’ll be Manning’s final chance to grab that elusive second ring.
That in and of itself is pretty remarkable. Especially when you consider what he’s gone through on the road to Super Bowl 50.
Manning’s final NFL season has been a rocky one. He struggled to find a rhythm and was eventually benched and replaced by Brock Osweiler. Then there was the allegations of HGH use that threatened to put his legacy in jeopardy.
Some even believe that he’s the worst quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl.
That’s certainly debatable. What’s not debatable is that when he walks onto the field at Levi’s Stadium to start Super Bowl 50, he’ll be the oldest quarterback (39) to ever do so.
It’s been a strange road for sure.
But despite it all, here he is. The Sheriff will ride into town with a chance to save the day one final time.
To do it, he’ll have to overcome the best player and team in the league.
Newton is easily the NFL MVP this season. He’s helped the Panthers have one of the greatest seasons in league history, and if not for a head-scratching slip-up in Atlanta, we’d be talking about Newton and Carolina being a win away from perfection.
At one point, Manning was the future. It was his league. But now, Newton is the future. And he’s on a quest to grab that first championship ring.
They are two players going in different directions. The former is riding into the sunset, while the latter is looking to take the first step towards a Hall of Fame career.
It’s an intriguing situation for Manning. A win would put him even with his brother Eli when it comes to Super Bowl rings. Of course, it would also still leave him two behind future Hall of Fame counterpart Tom Brady.
Even when Manning retires, that’s the battle that his legacy will always fight. It’ll always be Manning vs. Brady. And while two Super Bowl titles won’t be enough to reach Brady’s level, it at least gives Manning more ammunition in the debate that will never go away.
Either way, Manning is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to step onto a football field. But once again, careers are typically defined by championships. It is what it is.
Adding another to his resume won’t put him ahead of Brady. It won’t change the outcome of the situations where Manning seemed so close to winning another championship.
However, it will further supplant his status as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. That’s not exactly a bad alternative.
This hasn’t been Manning’s best season. It’s probably been his worst.
But to go out a champion in the worst season of your career?
It’s safe to say he would be just fine with that.