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Saturday, February 1, 2014
Numbers aren't the full Book of Manning

By Jeff Legwold

Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos
The Broncos say that the toughness of Peyton Manning has been as impressive as his passing.
NEW YORK -- Manny Ramirez is a quiet, thoughtful guy, a get-it-done player who, like many of the Denver Broncos offensive linemen, would prefer to be seen rather than heard much of the time.

But the center who snaps the ball to Peyton Manning play after play, day after day, week after week, was asked this week what Manning does to reward his offensive linemen.

Ramirez didn’t hesitate before he simply said:

"He throws touchdowns."

Oh, yes, he has thrown some touchdowns this season, a season that has one more game when Manning and the Broncos take the field Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII. But Manning has rewarded his offensive line, the Broncos receivers, defense, coaches, front-office staff and legions of ardent followers plenty over the past five months with a staggering total of touchdowns this season.

His all-out invasion of the single-season pages of the league’s record book made Manning an easy selection as both the league’s offensive player of the year and most valuable player at the NFL Honors Awards show Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall.

Both awards were chosen by a national panel for the Associated Press. It was Manning’s fifth league MVP award -- he already held the record with four -- and his second offensive player of the year award. Broncos executive vice president of football operations, John Elway, a Hall of Famer and the NFL’s MVP in 1987, accepted the offensive player of the year award for Manning, while Manning's father, Archie, and son, Marshall, accepted the MVP award.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning threw for at least 300 yards in 12 of Denver's regular-season games this season.
That’s because Manning was otherwise indisposed Saturday night as the Broncos were putting the final touches on their game plan for Sunday’s title game against the Seattle Seahawks. A Super Bowl win Sunday would take Manning from having the greatest regular season in league history to what would be the greatest season overall.

Manning set single-season league records with 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns over the course of the Broncos’ 16 regular-season games. Manning tied a single-game record with seven touchdown passes in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens and had nine games with at least four touchdown passes to go with 12 300-yard passing games.

Tight end Julius Thomas called it "Madden football," and cornerback Champ Bailey has described it as "ridiculous sometimes, just taking the game to a place nobody knows."

This is most of what Elway had hoped for when he lured Manning to Denver as a stunned free agent recuperating from spinal fusion surgery. Elway looked Manning in the eyes and promised to do "everything in my power" for Manning to close out his career the way Elway did: with Super Bowl wins in each of Elway's final two seasons in the league.

For his part, Elway wanted a player to shake the sensibilities of the entire organization, a player so good, so accomplished, the player’s arrival would create "that mindset that you could win a world championship," to get the proverbial guy who raises all the boats.

"Absolutely. I mean, that's the reason you get a guy like that on your team -- to give you chances to win games like this," Bailey said. "He's the best to ever do it. I haven't played against a better quarterback, so I'm just glad he's part of our organization now because he definitely has a big part of why we're here, and I love him to death."

Manning was a Hall of Famer in waiting before he arrived in Denver. His place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was largely assured had he never thrown another pass after missing the 2011 season. It’s why so many questions about his "legacy" being based on Sunday’s result actually resided on the border between silly and insane. His legacy is that he was a Hall of Famer before Sunday’s game and, without question or hesitation, will be one after.

But what he has really done is add a chapter of remarkable grit to his story.

Quarterbacks with as many throws for touchdowns as Manning has over his career are largely considered to be finesse players, alpha dogs who are the center of a team’s universe.

But Manning rolled up his sleeves, dug in and rebuilt himself from the ground up. he rebuilt himself from a place where he couldn’t even prop himself up with his right arm following his fourth neck surgery, let alone throw a pass that would be worthy of an NFL game.

He has done it with toughness, drive and some old-school heavy lifting.

Manning has shown himself to be driven and willing to put the dirt under his fingernails to get back to where he is now, to believe in himself, to believe in the tiny day-to-day gains that marked his recovery. And where it led him was to the here and now, in which he is a player with a second lease on football life, already looking to play beyond Sunday’s Super Bowl.

So, while the numbers say his 2013 season was unprecedented, unheard of and more than a little unbelievable, the numbers don’t tell the most amazing part of the story.

"Beyond everything he’s done this season, what he’s done just to get back on the field and play is amazing," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It’s amazing, unprecedented and remarkable. Just remarkable. I thought what he did last year was amazing, but then he had this season. He just keeps showing us more. He's shown us what he has inside him, who he is."