Peyton Williams Manning (born March 24, 1976) was one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time. He was in the league for 18 seasons (playing 17 in all), the first 14 of them with the Indianapolis Colts from 1998 to 2011, though he missed the entire 2011 season due to multiple neck surgeries. After that season, he was let go by the Colts and then signed with the Denver Broncos, playing there from 2012 to 2015. He is a son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and an elder brother of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning - two players who were quite successful in their own right. His five NFL MVPs are a league record, he was the MVP of Super Bowl XLI, has been named to 14 Pro Bowls (tied with longtime rival Tom Brady), has thirteen 4,000-yard passing seasons, and is the Indianapolis Colts' all-time leader in passing yards (54,828) and touchdown passes (399). Sports Illustrated named him the NFL Player of the Decade for the 2000s.
Manning played college football for the University of Tennessee, leading the Volunteers to the 1997 SEC Championship in his senior season. However, No. 3 Tennessee lost to the No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers 4217 in the Orange Bowl. Manning was chosen by the Indianapolis Colts with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. With Manning at the helm, the Colts returned to a level of success and prestige they had not witnessed since their time in Baltimore with Johnny Unitas. From 1998 to 2010, he led the Colts to eight division titles, two AFC championships, and one Super Bowl championship (Super Bowl XLI) helping to give the team the best regular-season win record of any team in the 2000s.
After the 2010 season, Manning underwent neck surgery to alleviate neck pain and arm weakness he dealt with during the previous few seasons before signing a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Colts in July. Manning had hoped to play in the 2011 season, but in September he underwent a second, much more serious surgery: a level-one cervical fusion procedure. Manning had never missed an NFL game in his career but was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season and watch his team fall to the bottom of the league standings. He was released by the Colts after the season, as they used their #1 draft pick on fellow generational QB talent Andrew Luck, and after an almost two-week period where he visited with and worked out for several NFL teams, he signed with the Denver Broncos.
Concerns that Manning was past his prime quickly evaporated; Manning won Comeback Player of the Year in 2012, then followed it up with a staggering performance in 2013, setting records for most touchdown passes and passing yards in a single season that still stand today. On October 19, 2014, he broke Brett Favre's record for most career TDs when he threw his 509th touchdown pass (though he's since been passed by Brady and Drew Brees). He missed significant time during a 2015 season in which he began seriously showing the effects of age and injuries, but came back for the playoffs and eventually earned a second title in Super Bowl 50, becoming the then-oldest QB to start and win a Super Bowl and the first to win Super Bowls with more than one team. Manning deflected postgame questions about his playing future, but eventually decided to follow previous Broncos QB John Elway by retiring on top and riding off into the sunset. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021, his first year of eligibility.
Manning's pre-snap routine has earned him the nickname "The Sheriff", and he is one of the most recognizable and parodied players in NFL history. Teams led by Manning more often than not used the hurry-up offense in place of the standard huddle, as he barked out plays on the fly. In addition to his play on the field, Manning was one of the most popular players off the field as well. He is arguably more famous for the sheer number of endorsements and commercials he filmed for a wide variety of products; even many years into retirement, he continues to regularly show up in new ads that play well outside of the NFL season, usually making some jokes about his voice, the size of his forehead, and his postseason woes.note He's one of the few athletes to host Saturday Night Live (where he was in the Trope Namer sketch for Every Year They Fizzle Out, a comment directed towards... Peyton Manning), made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, was on the final Late Show With David Letterman as one of the celebrity presenters of the show's final Top 10 List. (Manning is said to be Letterman's favorite player for his time with Letterman's hometown Indianapolis Colts.) His voice acting has continued with a significant supporting role in the animated film Ferdinand. He now hosts the documentary series Peyton's Places for ESPN's streaming service and co-hosts a more casual simulcast of Monday Night Football with brother Eli.
Tropes related to his works:
- Adam Westing: Fond of this in his various media appearances and endorsements, either Flanderizing or subverting his Nice Guy persona.
- Always Someone Better: Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but while his stats are better, his overall record, especially in the playoffs, is overshadowed by Tom Brady, who has won seven of ten Super Bowls (and counting), while Manning only won two of four. Even more so by Manning's Broncos being totally blown out by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, and then the Patriots defeating the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Then after Manning won Super Bowl 50 in a relatively lackluster performance, the Patriots won Super Bowl LI in an incredible Miracle Rally against the Atlanta Falcons. Interestingly in their head-to-head records, Manning has the edge in the playoffs, winning 3 of their 5 meetings (his two losses to Brady in the playoffs both came in Foxborough while his wins were one in Indianapolis and two in Denver), though his overall record against them is much worse, only going 3-9 in regular season games against Brady and the Patriots.
- Peyton himself is this trope to his brother Eli, who himself is regarded as a great quarterback among the likes of Drew Brees, his brother Peyton, and Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers (his draft classmates in the 2004 draft), due to leading an underdog New York Giants squad to upset victories over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots twice—one of them being the famous 18-1 game Super Bowl XLII—but gets shafted due to his comparatively ordinary regular season stats. In fact, before Super Bowl 50, Eli could always claim to having won two Super Bowls and Super Bowl MVPs, but with the Broncos' victory in Super Bowl 50, Eli and Peyton now have two Super Bowls...and Peyton holds the records.
- Celebrity Endorsement: The football equivalent of Michael Jordan when it comes to endorsements. After he became an endorser for Papa John's Pizza in 2012, Manning would own several Papa John's restaurants in Colorado. He still regularly films new commercials for Nationwide insurance, and also had lucrative deals with DirecTV, Gatorade, and MasterCard, to name but a few.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: His persona in commercials is best described as a Golden Retriever puppy trapped in human form: happy, excited, and enthusiastic to the point of annoyance.
- Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Subverted. After Manning left the Colts to join the Denver Broncos, the two teams eventually met at a Colts home game. Rather than being booed, Manning was given a standing ovation by Colts fans, including showing a video package which ended with a graphic reading "THANKS PEYTON." The Colts later erected a statue of Manning outside their stadium soon after his retirement.
- Crippling Overspecialization: Manning's Colts teams were mostly geared around providing good receivers for him to throw to and blockers to keep the defense away from him. The Colts were high scorers but tended to fizzle in the playoffs, proving the old adage of "Offense wins games, but defense wins championships". Even the Colts' Super Bowl championship in 2006 was at least partly a result of their defense stepping up at the right time (they played unusually well in the wild-card and divisional rounds, as well as the Super Bowl, and the play that sealed the Colts victory against the Patriots in the conference championship was an interception of a Tom Brady pass with seconds to go). The Broncos were also more offense-oriented when he first arrived, but after their embarrassing 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the team was reworked to be better on defense, and they won two years later against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
- Every Year They Fizzle Out: The Trope Namer, after Peyton's SNL skit that lampshaded Manning's infamous tendency of this trope before his first Super Bowl win. While his regular season accomplishments are legendary, Manning has a mediocre playoff record (14-13, including nine one-and-dones, the most for a starting quarterback), mainly from the trope codifying in the first half of his career while Tom Brady racked up titles in New England. His two Super Bowl wins have erased most of this stigma by this point.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: Manning set the 16-game single-season record for passing yards in the 2013 season. His last pass of the year, which put him over by a single yard, went sideways to a receiver on the boundary. Under NFL rules, if it went backwards, it wouldn't count as a "pass" and therefore Drew Brees would retain the record. NFL fans have spent significant amounts of time reviewing this otherwise routine play and arguing over this point.
- The Rival: To the New England Patriots in general and Tom Brady specifically. He continued to tease both of them for their various scandals well after his retirement.
- Self-Deprecation: He won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos, but he was visibly hindered by injuries and helped by a historically-good defense. He's made many public jokes about being "carried" to that title.
- The Band Minus the Face: Oddly enough, the Tennessee Volunteers won the national championship the year after he went pro, behind a far less heralded and less successful quarterback.note
- Vetinari Job Security: This happened to the Colts in 2011, as Manning's backups, Kerry Collins (who came out of retirement), Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky, struggled to replicate Manning's offense, and combined with a very difficult schedule (the AFC South played the AFC North and NFC South that year), the Colts finished 2-14, leading to jokes and discussions that Peyton was the 2011 NFL MVP without playing a game. (Ironically, the only quarterback of the three who won any games was Orlovsky... previously best known for being the quarterback of a Detroit Lions team that went winless for the whole season.)"Fellas, if #18 goes down, we're fucked. And we don't practice fucked." — Tom Moore, Colts offensive coordinator, on why Manning's backups don't receive snaps during practice
- Subverted in the 2015 season, in which the defensive-oriented Broncos finished 5-2 while Manning sat out while recovering from his foot injury. The Broncos would go on to win Super Bowl 50, despite Manning's offense being awful that night (his offense gained the fewest yards for a Super Bowl champion).
- What Could Have Been: As noted in The Rival above, he and Tom Brady fought to be the best QB in the AFC for years. However, their teams (the Patriots and Colts) were split up in the 2002 NFL realignment, meaning they could have spent most of their careers fighting for the same division title. Brady and the Patriots only played one season against the Colts as divisional opponents, going 2-0. For a lot of years, the Pats looked like Peyton's kryptonite — in his first seven years in Indy, he only won two games of eleven meetings, dating back to when Drew Bledsoe was playing, and when Brady took over, the Pats beat the Colts four times in the regular season and twice (in humiliating fashion) in the playoffs. It's speculated that having an extra game (and a guaranteed home game) would have made the initial matchup look more even.