ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sixty touchdown passes. Fifteen wins. A fifth MVP trophy.
Peyton Manning is more productive than he’s ever been, and whether he’s deciphering defenses at the line of scrimmage on game day or on his iPad during the week, his love for the game hasn’t waned.
The final piece of evidence that Manning is as good as ever came Monday.
As expected, Manning passed the exam on his surgically repaired neck that was required by his contract with the Broncos that will pay him $20 million next season, according to a person with knowledge of the results. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because results of medical checkups typically aren’t announced.
Manning has said that if doctors tell him he’s at risk physically, he’d have no problem calling it a career.
After his four neck procedures, including a spinal fusion that sidelined him for all of 2011 and eventually led to his release from Indianapolis, Manning has said he has steeled himself for that possibility.
At the Super Bowl last month, he talked about how his older brother, Cooper, had to give up football after neck surgeries in high school and college, and how that had a big impact on his life.
“I remember at the time, when Cooper got injured, they did a test on me and Eli. I would have been a junior in high school and Eli would have been a sixth-grader, or something. They said our necks weren’t picture perfect and didn’t look ideal, but they’re stable enough to keep playing football. Cooper had to give up playing football. In some ways, when I had my neck problems, I thought maybe I had been on borrowed time this entire time,” Manning said. “I was fortunate to have 20 years of health to play football. If that was going to be the end of it because of a neck injury, I really, believe it or not, had a peace about it.”
Once doctors told him his neck was secure, however, Manning said he quickly shifted his focus to seeing if he could strengthen his weakened throwing arm to the point where he could be productive again.
After the Colts released him, Manning signed a five-year, $96 million deal in Denver, where he’s thrown for 100 TDs, including the playoffs, while going 28-7 with two AFC titles.
Manning won his fifth MVP award in 2013, when he set single-season records by passing for 5,547 yards and 55 TDs while guiding the Broncos, the highest-scoring team in NFL history, to their first Super Bowl in 15 seasons.
Although Manning’s plans for 2014 became a big story line in the playoffs, the Broncos front office had proceeded as though their quarterback would be returning for another run at a title. Although his deal with Denver requires him to pass a physical every spring to make sure his neck is OK, if there were any concerns about his neck, he wouldn’t have started all 16 games, plus three more in the playoffs.
Not only is Manning still performing at his peak level, he said he still enjoys everything that goes into getting ready to play on game days and “when you still enjoy the preparation, I think you probably still ought to be doing that,” he said at the Super Bowl.
He passed his required exit physical that all players take in the days following the Broncos’ Super Bowl loss to Seattle. He then played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament just days later, another indication that his neck is fine.