When Peyton Manning met Bill Belichick at midfield following the Denver Broncos victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, he whispered something in Belichick’s ear before heading into the locker room.
“Hey listen, this might be my last rodeo, so it sure has been a pleasure,” Manning told the Patriots coach, as reported by the New York Daily News.
And if it is, then Manning could join an elite class of NFL Hall of Famers to walk off into the Super Bowl sunset with a win in their final game, if the Denver Broncos can manage to defeat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
And while it isn’t known if Manning will retire, all indications point to yes, Super Bowl 50 will be his last rodeo. Peyton is hoping he’s got enough left in the tank to pull the Denver Broncos through if it is.
Hall of Fame running Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers was one of the first NFL stars to end their career on such a high note, exactly ten years ago in Super Bowl XL. He recounted his memories of his experience throughout Super Bowl week.
“It feels like it’s been a little while,” Bettis said, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. “But it doesn’t feel like 10 years. I can kind of think that’s yesterday that we were in Detroit and driving to the game in the snow. It was kind of imprinted in my mind, that moment.”
Another moment that stuck with him was a scoring play in the first quarter where Ben Roethlisberger used blocking from Bettis to carry his way across the goal line en route to their win over the Seattle Seahawks.
“When we both were on the ground there, it was kind of like he was on me or right to the side of me, and we were joking and laughing about that moment. As big as that stage was, we were still laughing and joking because we were on top of each other. It was pretty cool.”
Much like Peyton Manning, Michael Strahan has such a natural TV charisma, it’s almost hard to remember that at one point he was an elite level defensive end, voted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. He, too, retired following the Giants’ stunning Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots back in 2008. But unlike Bettis, who knew his Super Bowl winning year would be his last, Strahan actually kept his intentions a secret until after the game was over.
“I’m just finding out about it; let me get organized,” coach Tom Coughlin said after a team workout in the summer of 2008, as reported by ESPN. Michael Strahan went on to become one of the biggest TV personalities out there, first with FOX NFL Sunday and later with Live! with Kelly and Michael. There are many pundits who believe Peyton Manning will follow the same path, as he’s been seen on numerous TV commercials and shows like Saturday Night Live.
Finally, Ray Lewis, who is not eligible to enter the Hall of Fame until 2018, but who many expect to be a shoe-in to make it, walked the walk back in 2013 when he closed out his stellar career with a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, announcing his retirement plans just prior to the start of the playoffs, as reported by the Ravens website.
Unlike Strahan and Bettis, however, and more closely aligned with Peyton Manning’s career, Lewis had already captured one Super Bowl ring when his Ravens trounced the New York Giants in 2000, behind Trent Dilfer and his elite Baltimore D.
And of course, who can forget one of the ultimate pros to walk off after winning the big game, but former Broncos quarterback, and current Denver VP John Elway himself who was instrumental in bringing Peyton Manning to the team in the first place. Peyton Manning is hoping to duplicate his exact blueprint as the Denver Broncos face-off against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]