It is rare in pro football that players stay at the top level of their sport for over ten years. Retirement can come early as players are cut, dropped or injured. For a player to remain active in the top flight of any sport for eighteen years is basically unheard of. Those kind of players have created their own legacy and story, inspired a generation and left a lasting impact on their sport. Peyton Manning is exactly that kind of player. Announcing his retirement Monday, exactly four years to the day since his release by the Colts, Peyton “the sheriff” Manning walked off into the sunset and left his pro career behind. Peyton was an NFL heavyweight for eighteen years, fourteen with the Indianapolis Colts and four with the Denver Broncos. Whether a fan, or rival, he commanded respect from fans of all teams. Even a quick look at his career requires pages and still seems to do an injustice. So forgive me as I do my best to highlight the career of one of the greatest players of all time. Pre-NFL Years Peyton as the middle son of Olivia and Archie (Who?) Manning, grew up surrounded by football. Anyone who has seen The Book of Manning or A Football Life will have seen the video of Peyton as a toddler perfecting his three step drop and telling the cameraman he wanted to be a player too when he grew up. Aside from his father, an ex New Orleans Saints QB, his favourite player was Dan Marino whom Peyton thanked for inspiring him in his retirement speech yesterday. Indeed the Manning’s were a football family and it was no surprise that it was the intended career path of all three Manning brothers. Cooper and Peyton even played together on the same Newman high school football team as WR & QB respectively until a back injury ruled Cooper Manning out of college football at Ole Miss, Archie’s alma mater. This being the reason Peyton chose to wear Coopers’ old number, eighteen, for his NFL career -to dedicate his career to his elder brother who could no longer play. When it came to declaring a college, Peyton didn’t choose the University of Mississippi like Cooper and his father, preferring Knoxville and the University of Tennessee Volunteers over the Rebels at Ole Miss. In his retirement speech yesterday Peyton took the time to thank the teammates, fans and staff at the University of Tennessee, with particular reference to his senior year as a time of growth for him. In his freshman year, during the fourth game of the season, he took over for the injured Todd Helton, losing 24-21 but doing enough to be named starting quarterback. Winning his first official start the following week against Washington State 10-9 and winning all but one of their remaining games. It was clear all those three step drops as a toddler had paid off! What was also becoming clear was the amount of game preparation Peyton did. The hours of videotape studied in order to identify a weakness or develop a strategy that could give his team the edge. This was a sign of his dedication to become what he would, essentially a quarterback and game manager rolled into one at the line of scrimmage. Peyton left Tennesse as the all time leading passer with 11,201 yards, 89 touchdowns and winning 39 out of 45 games when starting. Breaking the SEC record for career wins and just missing out of the Heisman trophy to Charles Woodson, a legend in his own right who also retired this season. Drafted by Indianapolis Drafted first overall by the Colts in the 1998 draft, Peytons’ rookie year on paper didn’t look like the smoothest of transitions from NCAA Football to the NFL. Even in his retirement speech yesterday Peyton made a joke about his rookie interception record. “In our rookie season we went 3-13 and I set the record for interceptions (28). A record I still hold today.” He also mentioned that, when he was drafted to the Colts, Indianapolis was “a car racing town, a basketball town.” It’s true that Peyton can indeed be credited with helping cement the Colts into the hearts of the locals with many calling Lucas Oil stadium, the house that Peyton built. Even more fitting that his younger brother Eli won his first Super Bowl there. The highlight of his fourteen seasons with Indianapolis came when he led them to Super Bowl XLI, being named Super Bowl MVP and finally getting that ring he deserved. In his time with the Colts Peyton threw 399 passing touchdowns, first overall in Colts history and 112 of those were to one single player, Marvin Harrisson. On 7th March 2012 after being on IR the previous season and fearing he may not be the same upon return, the Colts released Peyton Manning. John Elway VP of football operations at Denver reached out to him and Peyton had joined the Denver Broncos by March 20th. Building around Peyton resulted in four of Peyton’s most successful seasons yet, proving he had returned from injury stronger and better than before his injury. The Second Act: Signing with the Broncos Peyton’s four seasons in Denver would yield: four winning records and post season appearances (three as #1 seed in AFC), two Super Bowl appearances – one win and records galore, particularly in 2013 when the Denver offense ranked #1 in the league. During 2013 Peyton set the records for passing yards in a season (5,477) and passing touchdowns in a season (55). He also tied the record for touchdowns in a single game during the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, the team that had eliminated the Broncos in the post season just one season earlier, after Peyton had thrown an interception in overtime. The 2015-16 season wasn’t Peyton’s best. The switch to a more run focused offense and big investments on the Defense since the arrival of Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips, wasn’t going to produce offensive (passing) records. Add to that a plantar fascia injury carrying season in which Manning was benched in the week 10 loss to the Chiefs in favour of Brock Osweiler. He then returned in the week 17 win against the Chargers. A win which ultimately allowed Denver to hang on to the #1 overall seed, which was pivotal towards their run to, and eventual win at, Super Bowl 50. Throughout the post season speculations were being made on his retirement, especially after he was overheard telling Bill Belichick that this may be his “last rodeo”. In his retirement speech Peyton even made reference to his daughter asking him at Super Bowl 50 if this was his last game? Making a joke that Adam Schefter had got to his daughter! Though the decision to retire now is not surprising. He has his second ring. A ring his critics said he much needed. Plus he has broken all of the major offensive records for quarterbacks and then added a few extra ones. It will be interesting to see how many still stand in 5-10 years. Records make a career seem easy but Manning’s career has not been easy, free from scandal, controversy or criticism. From allegations of sexual harassment at the University of Tennessee, to most recently HGH use. His main criticism, however, has come on the back of his post season performance. Though this picture isn’t as dark as his critics or the nickname “Mr Regular Season” suggest. What is clear is it wasn’t necessarily that Peyton was poor under pressure. Peyton Manning was the king of fourth down. In 9,380 passing attempts, only 84 were on 4th down. Of those 84, 15 were touchdowns. When fourth down and from 6 yards or less he was 47 for 63, for 524 yards and 13 touchdowns. That is a massive 138.5 passer rating when faced with a fourth and mid or fourth and short situation. Being able to read the defense as well as Peyton could also translated into an excellent career sack ratio. Peyton has been sacked just 303 times in an 18 year career and that is just 3.1% What we also know is that Peyton was not a great performer when it came to overtime. In over 9000 career passes, he has zero overtime touchdowns, not one, and 3 overtime interceptions. This is probably one of the main reasons for criticism of his post season career. The low point of which being Super Bowl XLVIII and that Safety. Manning’s overall Super Bowl passer rating is 77.4, poor when you consider his ratings for wildcard games, 102.0. The post season picture isn’t all dark now though. With the three post season wins and the victory in Super Bowl 50, Peyton’s career post season record ends 14-13 and may be one of the many reasons now is a good time to retire – that and March 9th, 2016 being the date that his salary becomes guaranteed of course. Super Bowl 50 gave Peyton Manning his 200th career win (regular and postseason games combined), with an overall win-loss record of 200-92. He leaves Denver with 140 passing touchdowns over four seasons. Second overall in Broncos history behind the man who brought him to Denver, John Elway. Records and Statistics Peyton Manning’s career statistics are mind blowing… His win percentage was never under .750 against 16 of 32 NFL teams during his entire career. That’s half the league! He retires with a 24-2 win-loss record against the entire AFC North and a 10-2 win-loss record against the entire NFC South – which includes 32 touchdowns in only 12 games. He’s the all time leader in game winning drives, with 56 and all time leader in fourth quarter comebacks with 45. He has fourteen 4,000 yard passing seasons. He’s been named to the pro bowl fourteen times. He’s thrown 112 touchdowns to a single receiver, Marvin Harrison. He’s tied the record for career regular season wins with Brett Favre – 186 wins. He’s also tied the record for touchdowns in a single game with 7. (A record shared with: Luckman, Burk, Blanda, Tittle, Kapp & of course Nick Foles who completed the feat just 8 weeks after Peyton.) He’s a two time Super Bowl champion (SB 50 and XLI), a super bowl MVP (XLI) and the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He has the most NFL MVP awards, with 5. He holds the NFL record for career passing yards with 71,940 and the record for passing yards in a season with 5,477. He also holds the records for career passing touchdowns with 539 and passing touchdowns in a season. Finally, he made “Omaha!” part of our football Sunday lexicon. The statistics do speak for themselves. When Peyton is eligible to be considered for the Hall of Fame in Canton that consideration meeting will probably take all of five seconds to decide he’s in, first ballot. Peyton Manning is one of the players that leaves a legacy on the NFL and a generation of its fans and never leaves their hearts. Though the fans will miss the prospect of Manning v Brady XX – The Hernia Years. We must be grateful for what this man has given us and the sport. Particularly the Colts and Broncos fans around the world, for whom #18 will always hold a special significance. Yes it’s so very rare for a player of this calibre, who has achieved so much, to retire. So rare for a player to have performed at the top level so consistently, for so long and to leave at the zenith point. The best possible time in their career – yes here’s looking at you Brett Favre! Of course Manning will miss the game, because he loves this sport and it would be amazing to think of him coming back in some coaching capacity in the near future. You cannot deny the time to retire has never been as opportune. In his retirement speech yesterday Peyton thanked the nine coaches he had worked with over his career, from school to the Broncos. Thanking them for helping him “develop his craft” and “become a better human”. He also thanked Denver for the opportunity. Ever humble and professional, Peyton not surprisingly he thanked those closest to his heart – the fans. In particular the fans of both the Colts and Broncos. Thanking them for the “hundreds of letters” he receives from fans and saying that the fans are the best thing about this sport. Well as one of those Denver fans myself, thank you Peyton Manning. From the bottom of my little orange and blue heart, thank you. And the sheriff rode off into the sunset. Where a lifetime of Papa John’s awaited him.