The man who brought quarterback Peyton Manning into the NFL 18 years ago is desperate to see him head off into the sunset after Super Bowl 50 as a champion.
Bill Polian selected Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft when he was general manager of the Indianapolis Colts and the franchise was rewarded with 11 winning seasons out of 13 and a victory at Super Bowl XLI.
Manning has returned to the NFL’s grandest stage this weekend as a Denver Bronco, albeit at the end of a poor season personally, and, although he is reluctant to discuss his future plans, there is a sense that bowing out after tonight’s game with the Carolina Panthers would be the perfect time.
Polian hopes Manning will have the opportunity to potentially sign off from his sport on top, as current Broncos general manager John Elway did after the 1998 season.
“A friend of mine said, ‘There are no happy endings in sport’ and he’s probably right,” ESPN analyst Polian said last week. “There are far more sad endings than happy ones. I’m praying that this is a happy one for (Manning).”
Manning, 39, is a five-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) and holds the record for the most yards and touchdowns thrown in the regular season, statistics that will certainly see him join Polian in the Hall of Fame once his career his done.
“You get emotionally involved,” Polian added. “He’s not only a colleague but a friend. We’ve shared a lot over parts of his career, much of which has nothing to do with what took place on the field.
“In that sense I keep marvelling at what he does and rooting hard for him to see him succeed knowing that with whatever past failures there have been – and there have been very few – they tend to be washed away.”
While Manning’s star is fading, the signal caller for Denver’s opponents tonight is emerging as the league’s new star.
Cam Newton, with 45 total touchdowns to Manning’s nine in the regular season, was expected to be named the league’s MVP last night before the clash at Levi’s Stadium in the San Francisco Bay Area and is in the midst of redefining the quarterback position – both on and off the field – with a degree of dynamism and oodles of confidence that make him the heart and soul of his Carolina franchise.
Seven years ago Newton spent a year with Blinn College in Texas and his head coach Brad Franchione remembers a player whose attitude then lifted his team to a championship.
“He was just the happy-go-lucky, energetic guy that you’ve seen a lot of this season,” Franchione said.
“He was very charismatic. Our team naturally enjoyed having him around because he brings so much energy. He’s pretty excited about what he’s doing on the field and very competitive.
“The charisma and the competitiveness he brings – his team-mates grab it, they feel it. It also helps your team.
“He was always competing within the team, trying to win no matter what he’s doing – whether it’s in the weight room, on the field, or team competitions.
“That was where he was at his best and it didn’t always have to be football. He was going to try and compete and beat everybody and that’s a characteristic that helps your team get better.”
The Panthers have a Scottish interest in the shape of Arbroath-born kicker Graham Gano, whose heritage has led to Super Bowl half-time act Coldplay to pledge their allegiance to the Charlotte-based team.
Gano, whose US navy officer father was based at Arbroath in the 1980s, hopes to bring his wife and children on a visit to Scotland as a Super Bowl winner.