Football owed him one.
The celebration he was wrongfully denied when his name wasn’t called as the winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1997 was replaced with an unexpected championship in Super Bowl 50.
After 19 years, justice has been served for Peyton Manning.
He can retire as a champion now, if he chooses.
And have the last laugh, if that were his style.
Manning, however, didn’t dance or dab when he won 24-10 on Super Sunday, and he didn’t rant or rave when he was undercut 19 years ago.
He’s been classy throughout his NFL career. Maybe not perfect, but 99.44 percent pure.
We can’t say the same about ESPN, which orchestrated a campaign to influence voters to pick Michigan junior Charles Woodson, who was primarily a defensive back, instead of the heavily favored Manning in ’97.
The announcement of the final results was so shocking, I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. How about you?
But ESPN couldn’t deny Manning this time, even if it tried. Denver defensive terror Von Miller would have sacked Jon Gruden if he even thought about it.
Denver/Manning fans, and there are thousands of them in these parts, including myself, couldn’t be happier.
To see Peyton finish the season with a Super Bowl title was quite remarkable considering he had been benched late in the third quarter of Game 10 against Kansas City on Nov. 15.
With several key Broncos already injured, Manning tried to play even though he wasn’t 100 percent. He surpassed Brett Favre’s all-time NFL record for passing yards early in the game, but his performance ended up being his worst ever as a pro.
He completed only 5 of 20 passes for 35 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback rating was 0.0. Longtime backup Brock Osweiler took his place.
Was this going to be our last memory of Manning? Good grief.
The five-time MVP stayed back in Denver the following week, nursing injuries to his foot, ribs and shoulder, when the Broncos traveled to Chicago. Meanwhile, Osweiler led a 17-15 win over the Bears.
Manning ended up being sidelined for six straight games.
In the final regular season game against San Diego, the Broncos were struggling offensively, and after five turnovers, here came Manning riding into the game on a white horse in the third quarter. He guided his team to 20 points and a 27-20 victory.
“It wasn’t like Osweiler was stinking it up out there,” said Chargers QB Phillip Rivers. “But I’m not surprised in the sense that you have a guy that hasn’t been a backup in a game since ‘94 (freshman year at Tennessee) and is one of the best of all time.”
I was relieved to see Manning have at least one more golden moment to be remembered by.
Another good thing about Week 17 was that New England lost at Miami and the day ended with the Broncos as the AFC’s No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs.
Coach Gary Kubiak named Manning the starter during the bye week. But I had my doubts he could guide Denver far in the playoffs.
The Broncos were fortunate Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ outstanding wide receiver, couldn’t play in the semifinals because of a concussion suffered in the Wild Card round.
After holding off Pittsburgh 23-16, I had my doubts about beating New England for the AFC title. But Peyton threw a pair of TD passes, the Broncos roughed up Tom Brady and Denver held on for a 20-18 win.
I gave Denver even less of a chance against once-beaten Carolina in the Super Bowl.
But the Broncos won it and the only way I thought they could – with a great defensive effort and the veteran Manning mustering up enough offense and minimizing mistakes in a low-scoring game.
Football had a debt to pay.