Peyton Manning leaves a remarkable legacy on the NFL

Nov 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) walks off the field after the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Denver 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) walks off the field after the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Denver 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Peyton Manning will officially announce his retirement later today and longtime Colts writer Brad Wells shares his thoughts on the future Hall of Famer.

Goodbye Peyton.

Or, more specifically, goodbye to your NFL playing career.

And thank you. Thank you for entertaining me – a onetime rabid Indianapolis Colts fan – for 18 years. I’ll admit I rooted for you after you left the team that drafted you and went on to play for the Denver Broncos, though I was never so outwardly obnoxious as to wear one of those split Manning jerseys that would sometimes degrade and debase Lucas Oil Stadium on Sundays.

Seriously, unless you were a logic-hating New England Patriots fan, a hopelessly delusional Kansas City Chiefs fan, or any one of the five or six total fans who rooted for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, or Tennessee Titans, it was hard not to root for Peyton F. Manning.

By the way, if you don’t know what the “F” means, it stands for what he did to NFL defenses for 18 years.

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Manning’s records are well known. His accomplishments many. Pretty much every player and coach that either worked for him or against him also liked and respected him. He was the mayor of the NFL. The “Sheriff” of quarterbacks.

The best of all-time? I think so, but, as Hub Arkush wrote recently, the greatest of all time are likely Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Otto Graham grouped together. You could argue otherwise, but you’d be wrong.

Modern football is defined by Peyton Manning. No-huddle offenses? Peyton brought them back to the NFL in 1999 at a time when offenses were scripted so carefully that quarterbacks would start games with the first 20 plays already decided for them, regardless of the down, distance, coverage, or protection. Think about that for a moment. This was the kind of offensive thinking that helped Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. Scripted plays. Quarterbacks acting as robots. Boring NFL offenses that were dominated at the time by running backs like Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis, and Jamal Anderson.

Then, 1999 happened.

John Elway retired as a player. Peyton Manning came into his own as a second-year starting quarterback for the Colts, utilizing a no-huddle offense attack that allowed him to – GASP! – change the play at the line of scrimmage if he saw the defense use a specific personnel grouping or coverage.

Yes, Manning brought that back. A simple offensive idea that was made famous by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s only to be beaten down and forgotten by the robotic efficiency of the Bill Walsh-led San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. By the time the 1990s arrived, Walsh’s disciples – of whom Shanahan was one – had de-evolved the quarterback position into little more than a sock puppet of the head coach. Sure, there was the odd exception, like the great Buffalo Bills teams led by quarterback Jim Kelly. They weren’t the norm, though. The fad everyone chased was the scripted, dull, play-it-safe Walsh-style offense that had been Frankensteined into the playbooks of teams like Shanahan’s Broncos.

Then, Manning happened.

When defenses attempted to substitute players on 3rd down, Manning would rush the offense to the line and catch them in a “too many men on the field” penalty. When coaches were granted the ability to challenge certain plays called on the field during the 1999 season, Manning would hurry the offense to the line and run a play before the coach could decide if he wanted to toss his little red hanky or no. When defenses would start to suck wind in the fourth quarter of games, Manning would put the no-huddle into overdrive, forcing the opponent to play at his tempo.

Defenses did not dictate to Manning. He told them how the game was going to get played each Sunday. Even genius coaches like Bill Belichick, who has a 1-3 record against Manning in AFC Championship games and last beat Manning all the way back in 2005, could never really solve him.

This is Peyton’s true legacy. Like John Unitas before him, the game of football changed once Peyton Manning started shredding NFL defenses. Back when Manning was taken with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, conventional wisdom said that a quarterback would need four or five years before they’d get good enough to win at the NFL level. Peyton Manning’s Colts went 13-3 his second year in the league. He threw for 4,135 yards and 26 touchdowns in 1999. He was just 24-years-old.

I have no favorite Manning memory. There are simply too many great plays and moments to rank. Of all his accomplishments, my favorite is his return to the field in 2012 after spinal fusion surgery. Many people, including the owner of the Colts, thought Manning’s career was over after he sat out the 2011 season. A nerve in his throwing arm had “died.” Bone had been taken from his hip and fastened to his spine! People wondered if Manning would actually survive a blindside hit.

Four years, 17,112 yards, 140 touchdowns, two Super Bowl appearances, and a Super Bowl win later, Manning continued to “F” defenses in Denver the way he had so dominantly done in Indianapolis.

We were witness to the greatest quarterback of his generation, and certainly one of the best all-time. As with all great players, people will debate the level of Manning’s greatness in comparison to others. It’s part of the fun of football. Sadly, football will be a little less fun, a little less interesting, sans Manning the quarterback on Sundays.

Next: Peyton Manning to announce his retirement

Personally, I think his next move is as an NFL team president somewhere. Colts fans will scream “COME HOME, PEY-PEY!” but I don’t see Jim Irsay surrendering control of his franchise to Manning once again. Franchises like the Cleveland Browns, the Tennessee Titans, or the Miami Dolphins are more likely.

Regardless of his next plans, here’s to a great career. Here’s to 18 years of watching No. 18 take the quarterback position and transform it into Sunday afternoon theatre at its finest.

Here’s to Peyton F. Manning.