Broncos quarterback Peyton at the line in Super Bowl XLVIII… (Robert Deutsch, USA Today…)
When the Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown, all the anxious moments turned toward Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
There was fear for his health.
With the Seahawks holding a 29-0 lead at that point, the only way for Denver to rally was to have Manning dropping back almost every play, and this could have turned into a Seattle feeding frenzy.
So as the celebrations started on the field and Seattle won its first championship with a 43-8 win over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, Manning jogged a little before shaking hands with some Seahawks.
I was happy for the Seahawks because of what the win meant for their fan base and even happier for Manning because he didn't get seriously hurt.
And I hope he never plays in the NFL again.
There will be a lot of Manning critics for the next few days complaining about how poorly he played in another big game while pointing to his 1-2 record in the Super Bowl, and an overall postseason mark of 11-12.
To me, there is a bigger issue. When you're 37, had neck surgery two years ago, just had the best single season of any quarterback in the history of the NFL, and come away one game short of a second Super Bowl title, it's time to walk away.
It is time to stop rolling the dice because there is nothing else to prove.
It's a hard decision to retire but few leave like former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. He hitched one last ride on a world championship team and walked into the sunset with a Super Bowl ring.
Manning tried the same thing, but it didn't work out this season. Unlike Lewis, Manning carried the Broncos and he might be able to for another year or two, but when is enough enough?
Every football player is just one hit away from life-altering injury, but those percentages increase when you're quarterback, especially one who is 37 and already had two surgeries because of pain in the neck and throwing arm.
Plus, the quarterback position is changing. Because of the speed of defensive players and the emphasis to attack instead of read and react, there is a demand for mobile quarterbacks like Seattle's Russell Wilson and the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton.
Quarterbacks might ultimately have to win titles from the pocket, but they don't need to be under constant duress by being stationary in the pocket. Manning was an easy target because Denver couldn't keep the pressure off him.
Manning looked bad Sunday, but the Seahawks helped him play that way. He could get away with those floating passes against other teams, but not Seattle or even the San Francisco 49ers.
In the lightweight AFC, Manning could be successful for a few more years. The passion is still there and so are the leadership qualities, as well as the quick feet and release.
The arm isn't as strong as it once was, but he still can drop a pass over the arms of an outstretched corner into the hands of receiver in stride, or deliver a dart through a tight window in the red zone.
But no one likes to see greatness end in tragedy. For 15 years, we've all watched Manning run and command an offense like no other. We've liked the communication and the gyrations.
We admired his skill in working the play clock down to the last second, and his passion when chewing out a receiver who broke off a pattern too soon. At one point, the only thing that could match Manning's arm strength was his toughness, having played in 208 straight games.
There are few players I'd ever pay to watch play. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis and Dan Marino quickly come to mind. Manning is on that list, too.
At this point, there is nothing else to prove. Over the weekend, he won his fifth Most Valuable Player Award to go along with 13 Pro Bowls and 13 4,000-passing-yard seasons. There was conversation that if Manning had won Sunday, he would have solidified his legacy.
Who cares? We will never know who the best ever to play the game was, but it's just great to be in the conversation. Manning, Brady, Unitas, Montana, Elway ….
He is right where he belongs.
Manning didn't play well Sunday, but even on one of his best days in Indianapolis, he wouldn't have beaten the Seahawks. They were just a much better team. But if this was his last game, I like the way Manning went out. Despite a career-threatening injury two years ago, he beat the odds and carried a team on his shoulders. The old man came within a game of winning a title.
And then he walked off the field, a valiant effort by a gladiator.
The great ones should be able to leave that way, not carried off.