The singular off-the-field storyline of this Super Bowl week would be—if Peyton Manning played along—Manning’s last game. But publicly, he’s remained mum, giving just one hint that he’s even thought about it. Privately, it’s apparently a different story.
According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Manning has “told close friends that he expects this to be his last game.” We all expect it too, but this is the first indication that Manning may have already made up his mind—or is at least leaning strongly one way, barring a miracle rejuvenation. (“Maybe I hit the fountain of youth in the next month and I play another 10 years,” Manning joked yesterday.)
Manning faced plenty of questions about his future at last night’s media day, but he wouldn’t bite. When asked point blank if he would retire, he told Marshall Faulk, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Is it possible Manning doesn’t actually know for certain yet? Sure. He may fully intend to retire, but not want to commit just yet, believing there’s a chance he could change his mind based on the outcome of Sunday’s game and the opportunities that develop in the offseason. A championship would be a good note to go out on—I’m sure Manning has heard that from GM John Elway—but a loss could leave him craving one more shot.
Problem is, the Broncos are ready to move on and there aren’t any elite defensive teams out there craving a short-term QB. The Chiefs are set. The Cardinals are set. The Seahawks are set. The Panthers? Manning opined yesterday that Cam Newton will be the face of the NFL for the next decade. (“Anything the Sheriff says,” Newton said in response to Manning’s comment, “you can probably ink it in gold.”)
So it’s probably safe to treat this as Peyton Manning’s last game. And understand that it’s a hall of famer’s prerogative to change his mind.