INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/WATE) — As Peyton Manning ends his 18-year NFL career, he does so as one of the most accomplished to ever play the game. He is the only five-time MVP in league history and transformed Indianapolis into a football city.
From the first time he stepped on the field as a Tennessee Volunteer to his final game as a Bronco, here’s a look at the career of Peyton Manning.Related story: Peyton Manning announces retirement
Injuries lead to Manning’s first snap as Vols quarterback
It was a series of unfortunate circumstances that led to Peyton Manning’s first snap as the Vols quarterback in 1994. Starting QB Jerry Colquitt tore his ACL during a game, and then Todd Helton went down in a game against Mississippi State. Manning, who started the season as only a third string quarterback, was now thrust into the starting position.
He was seven and one as the started that season with a win over number 14 Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Over the next two seasons there was a series of highs and lows where Manning became the all-time leader in passing yards, completions and passing touchdowns, but fans wanted more.
Manning turns down the NFL draft, stays with the Vols
Manning surprised everyone on March 5, 1997, when he decided to forego the NFL draft and stay with Tennessee for his senior season. Manning said at his farewell press conference Monday it was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. Manning’s senior season cemented his Tennessee legacy as a consensus All-American who broke 42 NCAA, SEC and Tennessee records.
He took the Vols to their first SEC title win that season since 1990. Though he was passed over for the Heisman Trophy, a moment Vols fans will never forgive or forget, what happened a few months later laid the foundation for an 18-year professional career.
More coverage:Peyton Manning
“With the first pick in the draft…”
It’s hard to imagine now, but Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf was an actual debate in 1998. The pair were the top two picks in the 1998 NFL Draft and it seemed like their careers would be forever linked. The Colts, of course, took Manning first overall. The San Diego Chargers traded up in the draft to take Leaf, third in the 1997 Heisman race, with the second overall pick.
“Both of them bring a lot of assets to this table. I think both will fit very well with the teams that they wind up with,” said NFL legend Joe Theismann on draft day.
Both quarterbacks had different struggles in their rookie seasons. Manning struggled to not turn the ball over, leading the league with 28 interceptions. Leaf struggled to stay on the field, only playing in 10 games, including a loss against Manning and the Colts in Week 5.
Manning’s potential, however, was very evident. Despite the 3-13 record in 1998, Manning was third in the league in yards and had the fifth most touchdown passes.
Leaf would only play in 15 more games in his career and was out of the league before he turned 26. While Manning has been reviving his career in Denver, Leaf spent most of 2012 to 2014 in prison on burglary, theft and drug-related charges.
Following Manning’s rookie season, the Colts made sweeping changes to the roster. Marshall Faulk was jettisoned to St. Louis where he would blossom into an MVP. Brought in to replace him was Edgerrin James in the 1999 NFL Draft. Like Manning before him, James would have a rookie rival at his position. The Colts passed on Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams to take James. Again, the Colts took the right player. James was named rookie of the year and Williams struggled until he moved from New Orleans to Miami in 2002.
The defensive side of the ball saw changes, too. Veterans Cornelius Bennett, Chad Bratzke, Chad Cota, along with rookie Mike Peterson, would help the Colts allow 111 fewer points than in 1998.
Manning’s sophomore season saw him light up the league, throwing more than 4,100 yards and 13 fewer interceptions than he did as a rookie. The Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3, breaking the NFL record for best single-season improvement. Manning would make his first of 14 Pro Bowls and take the Colts to the playoffs for the first time since the 1996 NFL season.
That first playoff appearance was the start of what would be a long climb to the top for Manning. After a bye, the Colts would lose in the divisional round to Super Bowl runner-up Tennessee.
The next two seasons would also end in disappointment. In 2000, the Colts would again be “one-and-done” in the playoffs, losing in the wild card round to the Dolphins. An injury to James crippled the 2001 season. A 6-10 record kept the Colts out of the playoffs and coach Jim Mora was fired at the end of the season for refusing to replace Vic Fangio, the team’s defensive coordinator.
Brought in to replace Mora was former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. With Dungy, the Colts would make the playoffs in all seven of his seasons with the team.
Postseason success would continue to elude Manning, and a new rivalry would develop.
Manning vs. Brady
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will go down as one of the great rivalries in all of sports. Five times in their careers, the two have squared off in the playoffs. They have 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven MVP awards between them.
Brady would see success first, seemingly coming out of nowhere to lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl win in 2002. Manning and the Colts would continue to struggle in the playoffs, losing a wild card game in 2003 41-0 against the New York Jets.
The next season would see Manning and Brady face off in the playoffs for the first time. Brady, along with the league’s best defense, would keep Manning from reaching the Super Bowl with a 24-14 victory to end the 2003 season.
Brady and the Patriots would do it again to the Colts the next season, winning a divisional round game 20-3. The Colts defense would again hold the team back, ranking just 19th during the regular season and giving up 210 yards in the playoff loss to the Patriots.
The 2004 regular season would perhaps be the high-point for the connection between Manning and Marvin Harrison. Manning set the league record for touchdown passes in a season, sending 15 of his 49 to Harrison. By the time Harrison played his final game in 2008, the duo set numerous records together, including most receptions between a quarterback and a receiver, most touchdowns between a quarterback and a receiver and most yards between a quarterback and a receiver.
The Colts would again re-work the defense, bringing in veteran defensive tackle Corey Simon and drafting Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. Bob Sanders would develop into an All-Pro safety and the Colts would transform into the league’s second-best defense in 2005.
The Colts would put up the league’s best record in 2005, winning their first 13 games of the season on the way to a 14-2 regular season. The Colts lost two of their final three in the regular season, then took on Pittsburgh after a bye in the first round and looked rusty in the divisional round matchup. The Steelers dominated for the first three quarters of the game before the Colts put up 15 points in the fourth to make it a 21-18 game. A missed 46-yard field goal attempt by Mike Vanderjagt in the final minute would again send the Colts home disappointed. Vanderjagt never wore a Colts uniform again.
First time in the Super Bowl
Going into the 2006 season, Manning’s playoff record was 5-7. Following his fourth Pro Bowl appearance, Edgerrin James headed west to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Colts offense wouldn’t skip a beat with James. Longtime backup Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai took over at running back. The team would actually run for more total yards without James and had the league’s second-best offense.
The team ran off nine straight wins to start the season, including a victory over the Patriots in New England. The Colts would finish the regular season at 12-4 and be forced to play a wild card playoff game.
Wins over Kansas City and Baltimore would set up another AFC Conference Championship against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
By halfway through the second quarter, it was a feeling Colts fans had gotten used to. Asante Samuel returned an interception for a touchdown, putting the Patriots up 21-3 in Indianapolis.
Manning would go on to lead the Colts to one of the great comebacks in NFL Playoff history, getting the Colts back in the game and taking the lead in the final minute. Marlin Jackson would intercept a Tom Brady pass, sealing a 38-34 victory and sending the Colts to Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts went into Miami as favorites over the Chicago Bears. A game-opening kickoff by Devin Hester was returned for a touchdown and quickly put the Colts in a hole.
Halfway through the first quarter, Manning would evade the Bears defense and drop a bomb to Reggie Wayne to get the Colts back in the game.
Despite matching up against the league’s third-best defense, the Colts still managed to have their way with the Bears. Rhodes and Addai combined for 190 rushing yards. Rhodes’ touchdown run in the second quarter would put the Colts ahead for good. Kicks by Adam Vinatieri, brought in to replace Mike Vanderjagt, helped pad the lead and give the Colts a 29-17 victory.
Off the field legacy
On Sep. 5, 2007, Manning became the namesake for Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.
“I’m here today because Indiana is my wife Ashley’s and my home. And the children of this state are the echoes of a future not yet defined,” Manning said. “I’m humbled to have my name associated with this fine hospital system.”
Manning initially formed a relationship when he came to Indianapolis in 1998. The hospital opened in 2003, renamed in 2007 and still bears his name to this day.
Peyton’s father Archie was on hand for the renaming, letting everyone know how proud he was of his son.
“We’re very proud of Peyton for a lot of things, but today, I feel like we’re witnessing Peyton’s greatest moment,” said the elder Manning.
Manning also gives back in Knoxville, which isn’t even his hometown. He’s made donations, both of money and time, to the University of Tennessee and touched so many lives in the community. Over the years, Manning has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Knox County Schools.
“Even when once he got out and made a name for himself and want to come back and help this community is huge,” said Beaumont Magnet Academy first grade teacher Bonnie Hudson.
Manning gives back to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital with his annual golf tournament. ETCH partners with the Peyback Foundation, so every penny raised goes to help support kids in East Tennessee.
“It grows every year. We have so many different companies that support us. Last year there are five different companies that play in every single tournament, all 18 tournaments,” said Pat Scott with Children’s Hospital.
Back in the Super Bowl
Playoff losses to the San Diego Chargers would end the 2007 and 2008 seasons early and Marvin Harrison didn’t return for the 2009 season. Coach Tony Dungy retired following the 2008 campaign and assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell would be hired to replace him.
After a regular season that saw the team rip off 14 straight wins to start the season, the Colts defeated the Ravens and Jets and went to Super Bowl XLIV to meet Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
Just like in 2007, the Colts went to Miami as the Super Bowl favorite.
After trading the lead a few times, the Saints would open the second half with an onside kick that eventually led to a touchdown. Drew Brees would throw a touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter to put the Saints up 24-17 and give Manning the opportunity to tie the game.
Manning would drive the Colts all the way down to the Saints’ 31-yard line with passes to Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne.
The comeback would be stopped by Saints defensive back Tracy Porter. The Indiana University alum would put a stake through the heart of Colts fans, returning an interception by Manning 74 yards for a touchdown, ending hopes for another Colts Super Bowl win.
2010 saw Manning attend his ninth-consecutive Pro Bowl, but the Colts would lose a Wild Card game to the Jets in Lucas Oil Stadium. The 17-16 loss would be Manning’s final game as an Indianapolis Colt.
Manning’s 208 consecutive starts while he was a Colt are the second-most by an NFL player, trailing only Brett Favre’s record of 297.
“This town and this team mean so much me.”
Prior to the 2011 season, Manning signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Colts. In the offseason, he underwent a neck surgery followed by another surgery in Sept. 2011 for a herniated disc in his neck. Manning wouldn’t take the field at all in 2011.
Questions about his arm strength lingered while Manning was sporadically seen taking laps at the Colts’ practice facility.
The Colts bottomed out with Manning off the field. The Colts went 2-14 and coach Jim Caldwell was fired. With questions about Manning and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck available in the draft, the Colts decided to part ways with Manning.
An emotional press conference on Mar. 7, 2012 ended Manning’s 14-year career with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I’ve been a Colt for almost all of my adult life, but I guess in life and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever,” said Manning at an emotional press conference. “I have truly enjoyed being your quarterback.”
From 1998 to 2010, no quarterback started a game in a Colts uniform other than Manning.
Two Super Bowls in Denver
Two weeks after leaving Indianapolis, Manning found a new home in Denver.
At his introductory news conference, Manning was plenty aware that time wasn’t on his side.
“This is a now situation. We’re going to do whatever we can to win right now. That’s all I’m thinking about right now,” said Manning.
Manning would indeed find quick success in the Mile High City, racking up 45 regular season wins in his time there.
In his second season with the team, he led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance since John Elway was on the field.
A Super Bowl XLVIII matchup against the Seattle Seahawks would be one of the most lopsided losses in Super Bowl history.
Rumors of retirement would come with each offseason, but Manning and the Broncos would return to the Super Bowl following the 2015 season.
Hobbled by injuries, Manning missed regular season games for the first time since 2011. Manning would return from injury in Week 17 and lead the Broncos into the playoffs.
In the AFC Championship Game, Manning met Tom Brady for one final battle. On the strength of one of the league best defenses, the Broncos stifled the New England offense and once again sent Manning to the Super Bowl. With the victory, Manning went to 3-1 against Brady in conference championships.
“I’ve enjoyed playing on the same team as that defense,” Manning said about his defense. “I’m glad I haven’t had to face them this season, I’ll say that. They’ve been challenging to go against in practice.”
In what would be the final game of his career, Manning and the Broncos met 2015 league MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Coming in as an underdog, the Broncos defense would again make the difference. Newton was rattled all night, throwing a interception, fumbling twice and being sacked six times.
The Broncos would hold off the Panthers for a 24-10 victory, making Manning the only quarterback to ever lead two different teams to Super Bowl championships and capping off a surefire Hall of Fame career.