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Manning wasn’t messing with him. He was dead serious. His arm was shot, his future in football in doubt. A few days later, he underwent spinal fusion surgery and would miss the entire 2011 season.

If doctors had told him that was it, Manning said he would have called it a career without regret. But they gave him a bit of hope and that’s all he needed to embark on his comeback in Colorado.

Coach John Fox, never one to lobby for awards, suggested this week that Manning deserves a fifth MVP honor for the numbers he’s put up, the obstacles he’s overcome, the shift of culture he’s engineered.

Manning isn’t interested in talking about MVPs or comeback awards. He just wants enough wins to get a shot at hoisting another Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans in six weeks.

Peterson, on the other hand, is unabashedly clear in his desire for some recognition after overcoming torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, requiring the kind of reconstructive surgery that usually turns dominant players into ordinary ones.

There’s a long, long list of players who had shortened careers because of such injuries. But Peterson returned to the Vikings lineup less than nine months after his operation, and with a league-high 1,898 yards, he’s 207 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. He can topple it with another big game Sunday when Minnesota faces Green Bay with a playoff berth on the line for the Vikings.

With typical unflinching confidence, Peterson said in a recent interview with The Associated Press he’s expecting to win the comeback award.

“I kind of have that in the bag, especially how I’ve been telling people I’m going to come back stronger and better than ever,” he said.

Carrying the Vikings to the playoffs without a potent passing game in a league dominated by strong-armed, accurate quarterbacks would only burnish the credentials of this thoroughbred throwback.

In any other year, the zenith of comebacks might be that of Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who battled back from three torn right ACLs _ in 2009, 2010 and 2011 _ to be a major contributor to the Panthers this year. No player in NFL history has returned after tearing the same ACL three separate times.

Charles missed nearly all of 2011 with a torn left ACL. Yet the former All-Pro running back has run for 1,456 yards, the seventh-best season in franchise history. He can break his single-season-high set in 2010 with 12 yards against the Broncos on Sunday.

Charles ran for 226 yards last weekend, when he surpassed 750 career carries, which also qualifies him for the NFL record for yards per carry. Charles is averaging 5.82 yards on 770 attempts, which far surpasses the 5.22 yards that Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged in 2,359 attempts from 1957-65.

Charles, Peterson and Davis are all better than ever. Manning might be, too, but he’ll never say it.

“I’m trying to be as good as I can at this stage,” Manning said. “A 36-year-old quarterback coming off a year and a-half off, playing on a new team, I’m trying to be as good as I possibly can in this scenario.

“It’s a different kind of body I’m playing in and just a different kind of quarterback play for me.”

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