Peyton Manning is about to play in his third Super Bowl, but not even his brother thought he would ever get the chance after multiple neck surgeries.
Manning first had surgery in May 2011 to repair a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm. After playing catch with his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was "convinced" Peyton's career was over.
"I saw him after that first surgery, this neck surgery, and I was pretty much convinced that he was done," Eli Manning said Wednesday on NFL Network. "There was no way he could come back and play football. That first time he went and we were just throwing it in the backyard of our house. We're throwing 15 yards away, and it was a lob. He couldn't throw 15 yards on a line. It had no pop."
Peyton Manning eventually had three neck surgeries in 19 months. After the first surgery didn't work as anticipated, he had an anterior spinal fusion, involving making an incision in the front of the neck, removing soft disk tissue between the vertebrae and fusing the bones together with a graft.
Manning sat out the 2011 season and initially struggled in the 2012 preseason.
Eli Manning had seen it all before. Neck issues forced his oldest brother, Cooper, to give up football before college.
"I remember watching his preseason game last year, and I was worried," Eli Manning said. "I was kind of like, 'I don't know how this is going to work.' If you gotta make a throw, or someone's in your face and you can't step into the throw, can you make all those throws that you gotta make a lot of to end games?"
But Peyton Manning returned to have a great season in 2013, breaking records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. Eli Manning said he has been inspired by his brother's comeback.
"Sure enough, he's been able to do it, and even this year, he's been stronger, his arm strength's been stronger, and he's been better than ever," Eli Manning said. "So it's been an amazing journey for him and what he's overcome and for me to watch him to go through it, and the dedication to work has been inspiring."