Peyton Manning gots benched to heal a torn ligament in his foot, but is that the whole story? Can he get it together to end the season on a high note? History says no. But there are exceptions.
First of all, let me say I like Peyton Manning.
I realize we don’t really get to know famous athletes anymore than they let us into their world. But I have talked to some people who have met Manning and they all have said the same thing: he seems like a nice guy. Anyone who paid attention to the last month of the 2014 season could see the end was near for Peyton. Even with a great cast around him that would give him a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl, I was still not convinced he should come back for what I hope is his final year.
Right now Peyton has 193 completions on 322 attempts (59.9%), 2180 yards (6.8 per attempt), 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His passer rating in 67.6. Somehow his Broncos are 7-2 in his nine starts. Somewhere Ryan Leaf is saying, “See! I told you I was as good as him!” Manning’s yards per attempt are 5th worst among starters, his passer rating is the absolute worst, and his 17 interceptions lead the league. That’s one hell of a tumble for one of the all-time greats.
The question arises, did any other great quarterbacks finish their careers on a worse note?
Well, let’s see.
Joe Namath had a rather ignominious final season, donning the blue and gold of the Los Angeles Rams. Namath didn’t rack up Peyton’s putrid numbers, though. He was lucky, he got benched early in the season after playing just four games. His team finishing with a 2-2 record in those starts. Namath was 50 for 107 (46.7%), 606 yards (5.7 per att), 3 TDs/5 ints, a 54.5 rating. Those are awful numbers, but they were actually a little better than the year before (114/230, 49.6%, 1090 yds, 4.7 y/att, 4TDs/16 ints, 39.9 rating, 1-7 as a starter).
What a terrible end to a career that should have finished must better.
There must be something about those blue and gold uniforms. Johnny Unitas, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, finished his career with the San Diego Chargers. Unitas was another who was mercifully benched after only 4 starts and a 1-3 record. Unitas was 34 of 76 (44.7%) 471 yards (6.2 per attempt), 3 TDs and 7 interceptions and a passer rating of 40.0. His previous year had similar numbers (1-4, 88/157, 56.1%, 1111 yds, 7.1/att, 4 TDs/6 ints, 70.8 rating). Unitas and Namath are the two most glaring examples, largely because they went to new teams, but also their larger than life careers. Unitas was universally recognized as the all-time best quarterback at the time of his retirement. Namath’s importance to the game went well beyond statistics. Leading the Jets to a win over the Colts in Super Bowl III legitimized the AFL like nothing else could possibly have done.
Some other quarterbacks had their own inglorious career finishes.
Three time Super Bowl champ Troy Aikman was 4-7 with the Cowboys, highlighted by his 7 TDs/14 interceptions and 64.3 passer rating, his worst since his rookie season.
Dan Marino had 12 TDs and 17 interceptions and put up a career low 67.4 rating in his final season. Marino had offers to play another year, but cooler heads prevailed (I think it was his wife) and fortunately he retired.
I’m sure Jim Kelly wanted another chance at that elusive Super Bowl win, but the final year of career worst touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating along with legs that were finally giving out convinced him to hang it up.
Joe Theisman was having a terrible season (8 TDs/16 ints, 59.6 rating) when Lawrence Taylor ended his career for him by breaking his leg in the what is the worst injury seen live by the most people in the history of the world. It still gives me nightmares.
Iron Man Brett Favre had a couple good seasons after leaving the Packers, first for the Jets then for the Vikings, before his final injury plagued season convinced him to retire after 20 years in the league and before his 42nd birthday.
Fran Tarkenton retired after leading the league in passing yards and interceptions in his career finale. That seems like the perfect way for me to remember him. Not my favorite quarterback.
Dan Fouts had a couple bad seasons to end his brilliant career. He posted 26 TDs and 37 interceptions in his last two injury-filled seasons.
Ken Stabler had five horrible seasons before he finally left the game. Those five unproductive years might have kept him out of Canton. But if it kept The Snake in women and free booze, he probably has no regrets.
I’m sure every one of these guys had the same thought: “If I can just get healthy, I’ll be fine.”
Guess what? They can’t. Once you’re over 35 or so, you aren’t going to get healthier. It’s only going to get worse.
A few guys, and only a few, did it the right way.
Roger Staubach retired at 37 years old. In his last season, Staubach led the Cowboys to an 11-5 record with 27 TDs/11 ints, 7.8 yds/att, a league leading 92.3 passer rating and a playoff berth. Anyone who doesn’t include Staubach on his all-time great list is making a grave mistake. And I mean in the number one slot. As a Steeler fan, no one put fear in my heart like this guy. If you have seen the class that exudes from Roger, it’s no wonder he retired on top. He seems like that kind of guy. And maybe the best quarterback ever.
Joe Montana is one of the few legends that left his original team and didn’t hurt his legacy. Even though it was odd to see him out of that 49ers uniform, it wasn’t odd to see him in the playoffs. He lost in the AFC championship game in his first season with the Chiefs, then had an early playoff exit in his second, and last, season in Kansas City.
No one ended his career like John Elway. Elway had a great running back behind him in Terrell Davis, and he was smart enough to let Davis carry much of the offensive load. Nonetheless, Elway threw for 49 touchdowns to only 21 interceptions in his final two seasons, leading the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins. He had a tearful retirement speech afterward. He had enough self-awareness to know he didn’t have it in him to do it one more time.
It’s not quite over yet for Peyton Manning. He’ll sit out a couple weeks. If he is healthy enough to finish the season, then we’ll see number 18 taking snaps once again for the Broncos.
John Elway is now in the front office, calling the shots for the team he once quarterbacked. Elway has put together a great defense and an excellent corps of receivers to compliment Manning. Who knows? Maybe Peyton can put together enough offense to allow that defense win three or four straight playoff games and capture his second Super Bowl.
I’m not betting on it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing it. Peyton Manning deserves a better finish than what we have seen out him the past few weeks.