NEWARK, N.J. – When Peyton Manning returned to the NFL after a series of neck operations that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season, there was plenty of talk about when – and even whether – he would return to the level of play that earned four MVP awards and two Super Bowl appearances.
He ignored others’ voices.
He couldn’t ignore his own questions.
“I certainly had my concerns that entire time,” Manning said Tuesday at Super Bowl media day, less than a week before he’ll lead the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I had my concerns, because the doctors just couldn’t tell me anything definite,” he continued. “So when the doctors can’t tell you that, how do you really know? It was a matter of a lot of faith and trust.”
As it turned out, Manning would be just fine.
Last season, he led the Broncos to the playoffs, earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
“I kind of joked, ‘I never wanted to be eligible for that award,’ ” Manning said.
Broncos coach John Fox called Manning’s immediate success in Denver “truly remarkable.”
“To build on that,” Fox added, “and to have the kind of season he’s had to this point this year, I think is unprecedented.”
From the very moment it began in September – on opening night, Manning threw a record-tying seven touchdown passes in a victory over the reigning champion Baltimore Ravens – this season has been all about Peyton.
In Year 2 of his second act, Manning threw for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, both records. If the Broncos win Sunday, Manning will become the first starting quarterback to lead two franchises to Super Bowl titles.
Others weren’t shy about character- izing Manning’s place in the game.
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas: “I was nervous the first day I met him. … He’s definitely the best.”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson: “He’s one of the best – if not the best – quarterbacks to ever play the game. One day, I want to be like him, in terms of the way he thinks. He’s just a master of the game.”
Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor: “In my book, he ranks No. 1 at quarterback. I have tons of respect for that guy.”
When reporters repeatedly raised the word “legacy” to the 37-year-old Manning, he never took the bait.
“I’ve been being asked about my legacy since I was about 25 years old. I’m not sure you can have a legacy when you’re 25 years old. Even 37,” he said. “I’m not even 100 percent sure what the word even means.”