– Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl while completing 13 passes. It was like watching Jimi Hendrix play the tambourine.

Manning spent his entire career obscuring his intentions, calling out fake signals at the line of scrimmage, feinting safeties with his eyes. Sunday night, the NFL’s greatest illusionist couldn’t fool anyone.

After the Denver Broncos beat Carolina to win the Super Bowl, he refused to announce his intentions as the confetti fell but left little doubt that he had just played his last NFL game.

In a television interview, he said he wanted to hug his wife and drink large amounts of a certain beer brand in which he is invested. NFL players are not allowed to endorse alcoholic products. It seems Manning no longer considered himself an NFL player.

His wife told reporters that she wanted him to retire. Receiver Demaryius Thomas said, “I can play catch with him anytime I want to. But I don’t know if I would catch another NFL pass.”

Manning spoke more in the subdued tones of a man contemplating his future than with the jubilation of a champion, and admitted he reached out to a certain former Gopher.

“I talked to Tony Dungy last week,” Manning said. “He gave me some good advice, not to make an emotional decision.”

In Super Bowl XLI, Manning earned his first Super Bowl victory playing for Dungy’s Colts. Saturday, Dungy was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sunday, Manning won his second Super Bowl, giving him titles with two different teams and Super Bowl appearances with four head coaches.

He left the field having bolstered his corporate relationships as well as his NFL résumé. The ultimate pitchman may be more effective in commercials than in pads these days.

“You know, I’ll take some time to reflect,” he said. “I have a couple of priorities first. I want to go kiss my wife and my kids, I want to go hug my family. I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight. I promise you that.”

This wasn’t a Hollywood ending. This was the work of a novelist, the story of the old man and the D.

Denver dominated Carolina’s top-ranked offense, allowing Manning to win a Super Bowl by more points (14) than he had completions (13.) Manning finished 13-for-23 for 141 yards. The oldest quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl was sacked five times for 37 yards, twice going down like an octogenarian on an icy driveway. He threw an unsightly interception and did not pass for a touchdown.

This felt like Cam Newton’s week, and his season, but the league’s most valuable player had little help against the Broncos’ pass rush and secondary. Afterward, he pouted through a few short answers before walking off.

The Panthers were more reliant on Newton than the Broncos were on Manning. So long the Alpha Male, Manning became his team’s custodian, doing what was left over and necessary.

Manning threw for just 80 yards over the last three quarters and found himself handing off as the game was being decided. His primary contribution in the fourth quarter was a pass for a two-point conversion.

After that pass, Manning jogged to the sideline, not celebrating. “It’s just awesome because he was on a team that could help him get a win,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “He didn’t have to go out there and do it all on his own and he knew that.”

Manning kept saying he was “grateful” to play on this team, when for most of his career the gratitude flowed the other way.

“It’s been an emotional week, an emotional night, and the night is just beginning,” Manning said. “I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family and I think I’ll take some time after that.”

Manning knows this is the right time to retire, with his old arm and new ring.

 

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On