Peyton Manning was named Sports Illustrated’s 2013 Sportsman of the Year on Sunday, a decision that irked some people, who could think of other athletes who have had more success recently.
Manning led the Broncos deep into the playoffs last season after missing a year with injury and is on pace to take the NFL MVP award and single-season touchdown record this year — although he has yet to polish off those accomplishments and hasn’t won a title this year.
But the Sportsman of the Year award, which belongs to Time Inc.’s school of recognizing notable and notorious people (not necessarily praiseworthy, which is how most people tend to classify such awards), isn’t just for winners on the field. The award has historically tried to recognize those who contribute outside of sports, and in that regard, Manning’s win is a fitting makeup honor as well as a nod to what he had to overcome to even get back to playing.
It may be hard to remember now, but there were serious doubts whether Manning would ever play football again when he was cut loose from the Colts amid lingering concerns about his neck injury in 2012. His muscles had atrophied, and he experienced numbness and a lack of arm strength. Even when he could return to normal life, the worry remained that his arm would never be able to catch up with his head, rendering him unable to execute even the most basic throws needed as he picked through defenses.
Manning talked to Peter King of mmqb.com this week about his thought process as he worked to find a new team and come back in 2012, and he admitted he wasn’t sure he could pull it off.
King asked him if he ever thought his time in football was done.
“Yeah,” Manning said. “Ashley [his wife] and I actually had those conversations. More than one. Because, you know, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Because, they’re signing you, and people are thinking they’re getting the player they had always seen before. And so, Ashley was the one that was saying, ‘Peyton, you’ve got to try. You’ve got to try.’
“With this injury, nothing was happening. Nothing. For weeks. There was no progress. It was so frustrating. And really, I had a peace about it. I had a peace. Because, I had this unbelievable string of health for 20 years — since I was 15 years old as a sophomore in high school. So who was I to complain now that I’m injured? I’ve given it as good a run as I can give it. I’ve got kids now. I had a peace about it.
“So I didn’t feel like I had to play to get another win or a touchdown. But she’s like, ‘You’ve got to try.’ So I was glad that she pushed me to do it. Once I did it, I was going at it, and then I started seeing a little bit of light there. So, yeah, she was the one who kind of pushed me through it.”
Since his return, Manning has appeared in 30 games, going 24-6 while completing 793 of 1,163 passes (68.2 percent) for 9,470 yards and 84 touchdowns.
Manning has always been quiet about his injuries, not being one to admit aches and pains. But if he someday chooses to reveal more and describe exactly what he was facing during his layoff from football, there’s a chance this honor may seem more fitting than just giving the award to the NFL’s hottest QB.