As Peyton Manning continues recuperating from the spinal fusion procedures he underwent last year, it appears all but certain that he’ll continue his career a with a new franchise. Manning wouldn’t be the first future Hall of Fame quarterback to have to change teams in the twilight of his career and he won’t be the last (take heed Tom Brady). No one is safe from the passage of time. Despite the uncertainty over his recovery, teams are lining up to pick up or trade for Manning. The Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins may be willing to take a chance on Manning, however, it’s unknown if the feelings would be mutual as they’re both bottom feeders within their own divisions. The 49ers may be in the market for a quarterback and it would make an intriguing dynamic between Peyton and head coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached Andrew Luck at Stanford and was replaced in Indianapolis by Peyton back in 1998.
Another one of the interested teams is Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, who would love to have Manning return the Jets to their first "Big Game" since Super Bowl III. Namath, the legendary Jet who brought a championship to New York’s "other" team also finished his career in an unfamiliar surroundings. In 1977, Namath was released by the Jets and signed by the Los Angeles Rams. However, Namath would be benched after a 2-2 start to the season and never played again. He retired after the season.
Peyton’s Colt predecessor Johnny Unitas was also released by the Colts before his 18th season. However, Unitas was well past his prime and only threw for three touchdowns and seven interceptions in his final season with the San Diego Chargers before retiring.
Most recently Brett Favre’ bitter departure from Green Bay also took him to the Eric Mangini-coached New York Jets. Although, Favre’s final record and locker room strife that ended his tenure in New York would say the experiment with Favre was a failure, it showed that Favre still had plenty left in the tank. Before suffering an elbow injury, the Jets began the season 8-3 and he threw 20 touchdowns in the first 11 games.
The next year, Favre joined the Packers rival, Minnesota Vikings and had a career year before throwing an untimely interception as the Vikings drove for a game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game. Favre relunctantly limped out for a final season on a bad ankle and saw his start streaks record come to an end against the Chicago Bears.
However, the situation that most resembles Peyton’s ending with Indianapolis was Joe Montana’s ouster by the San Francisco 49ers in favor of Steve Young, a former No. 1 overall draft pick. After missing most of the ’91 and ’92 seasons, Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. While Montana wasn’t able to return to the Super Bowl as a Chief, he did manage to outduel the 49ers in a Monday Night Football classic and led the Chiefs to the playoffs twice.
Only one Hall of Fame quarterback has left a franchise he’s become synonymous with towards the end of his career and led his new team to an NFL Championship. Nine-time Pro Bowler Norm Van Brocklin is a name forgotten by most modern NFL fans. In fact, it was so long ago, his is also a name forgotten my most who saw him play. In 1950, Brocklin’s Rams set an NFL record by averaging 38.8 points per game and won an NFL Championship. In 1958, Van Brocklin joined the Philadelphia Eagles and in 1960, they won it all.
The fact that it’s been half a century since Brocklin achieved the feat shows how difficult is for an NFL legend to change cities, change systems and win an NFL championship.
Brocklin benefitted from Philadelphia’s head coach, Buck Shaw giving Brocklin complete control of the offense. Manning is a superior quarterback in this ag than Brocklin was during his but like Brocklin, he would benefit from an offense where he could make his play calls and audibles at the line of scrimmage. It’s what made Peyton great in Indianapolis and the team that acquires him will have to hand over the reigns of the offense to Peyton. This will be quite an adjustment for Peyton who has been using the same terminology, personnel and basically been his own offensive coordinator for over a decade.
As history has shown, there’s a chance Peyton may fall flat on his face like Namath and Unitas, play a few more seasons like Favre and Montana or add another championship to his resume like Van Brocklin. Either way, Peyton appears intent on returning and writing a final chapter to his storied career. Where it will end is the final twist.