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The 18 best moments of Peyton Manning’s career

Here are the best 18 moments from Peyton Manning’s career. 

Peyton Manning is calling it quits.

The all-time great quarterback, and successful pitchman, will officially retire from the NFL Monday after 18 years in NFL, as first reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. 18 is a magical number for Manning, who also wore the digits on his uniform with both the Colts and Broncos. 

To celebrate Manning’s outstanding career, here are 18 of his most memorable moments.

 SI’s special Manning tribute issue—Pick your cover: Broncos | Colts | UT

1998 NFL Draft

The Manning legend began in April 1998, when the Colts selected him No. 1 over Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf. Leaf went on to become one of the biggest busts in NFL history, while Manning became the guy worthy of an “18 best moments” reflection. Although it seems silly now, Manning vs. Leaf was quite the debate in 1998. The Colts chose wisely.

SI VAULT: Why Peyton Manning stands above Ryan Leaf in 1998 draft class

10/04/1998: Manning’s First Win

Seven months after being drafted ahead of Leaf, Manning would record his first career win against him and the Chargers in Week 5 of the 1998 NFL season. Manning was only 3–13 as a rookie, but his win over Leaf was the first of 200 career victories he would go on to accumulate over the regular season and playoffs.


11/15/1998: Manning’s First Comeback

Nearly every football fan whose team held a lead against Manning at one point felt the same way: Please don’t let him get the ball back. Manning struck fear in the hearts of his opponents throughout his career (more on that later!) because of his ability to erase a lead of seemingly any size. His first comeback came in his rookie year, a 24–23 triumph over the New York Jets.

The Idiot Kicker

Manning may seem like the friendly neighborhood man who cheers on the butcher at the local deli, but you don’t play 18 years in the NFL without a mean competitive streak. At the 2003 Pro Bowl, Manning had some harsh words for his teammate and kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who had criticized Manning and the Colts earlier in the off-season.

“I’m out at my third Pro Bowl, I’m about to go in and throw a touchdown to Jerry Rice, we’re honoring the Hall of Fame, and we’re talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off,” Manning said. “The sad thing is, he’s a good kicker. He’s a good kicker. But he’s an idiot.”

And that’s just a snippet.


10/06/2003: The Monday Nighter

If your parents let you stay up to watch this game, you were automatically the coolest kid in school the next day. Manning brought the Colts back from a 35–14, four-minutes-left-in-the-fourth deficit against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Monday night classic. The Colts scored 28 in the fourth quarter in what was undoubtedly a sweet victory for Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who was fired from Tampa Bay a couple years earlier. 

GALLERY: Rare photos of Peyton Manning throughout his life

01/04/2004: The Perfect Game

From 1998–2002, Manning racked up impressive accomplishments, but his résumé lacked a playoff victory. Manning emphatically erased that blemish from his record after the 2003 season, picking up his first postseason win in a demolition of the Denver Broncos. Manning completed 22 of 26 passes for 377 yards and an absurd five touchdowns. The performance gave Manning a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Peyton would eventually lose to his nemesis Tom Brady later in these playoffs, but he proved he was capable of producing a big game when the lights were brightest.


01/21/2007: Beating Brady

Before he could capture his first Super Bowl title, Manning had to move past Brady, who had already won three Super Bowls by the 2006 AFC Championship Game. Brady looked like he was well on his way to a fourth Super Bowl when the Patriots took a 21–3 first-half lead over the Colts in that AFC final. But Manning went to work, first tying the game at 21, then overcoming three more deficits to give the Colts a 38–34 win and a berth in Super Bowl XLI. The comeback was the largest in AFC championship history.

02/04/2007: Super Bowl XLI

On a rainy night in Miami, Manning finally captured an elusive Super Bowl title. Although Peyton didn’t have his best game—and Prince’s halftime show was arguably the highlight—he took home MVP and the Lombardi Trophy after a 29–17 win over the Bears. The game was also the first matchup of African-American coaches in a Super Bowl, with Dungy becoming the first African-American coach to win.


03/24/2007: Saturday Night Live

Behind the aw-shucks demeanor and various advertisements, we may never know who the real Peyton Manning is. But there was no denying the quarterback was hilarious when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2007. And I like to think the hilarious United Way sketch was at least a small peek into Manning’s true persona.

• Watch some of Peyton Manning’s best Saturday Night Live sketches

11/15/2009: Fourth-and-Two

Perhaps no coach showed as much respect for Peyton Manning as Bill Belichick, whose decision to go for it on fourth down with the lead during Week 10 of the 2009 season was born out of a fear of Manning’s prowess. In retrospect, Belichick’s decision almost certainly made sense from a mathematical standpoint. At the time however, it was another symbol of the desperate measures teams took to make sure Manning didn’t have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. The Patriots wouldn’t convert on fourth down. Manning took the ball and led the Colts to a game-winning score.

1/16/2010: Calling Out Donald

Remember what we were saying about Manning’s competitiveness? He expected the most from his teammates, a Manning trait perhaps captured best in this video of him yelling at running back Donald Brown for failing to pick the right blocking assignment.

03/08/2012: Saying Goodbye

Few players would earn the kind of press conference Manning did when he left the Colts in spring of 2012. Manning wasn’t retiring, he was being released, but he was still celebrated by Colts owner Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis media in his final press conference with the Colts. Manning’s emotional goodbye—at the time when no one knew how he would come back—set the stage for the dramatic second act of his career.


09/09/2012: The Return

Manning wasn’t in peak form in his regular season debut with the Broncos, but he was good enough to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers for his first win with Denver. Manning would hit his stride later in the season, but the fact that he could even play after multiple neck surgeries was nothing short of a miracle. During the win, Manning also threw his 400th career touchdown pass.


SI VAULT: Peyton’s Long Game: How he ended up a Bronco

10/15/2012: Vintage Manning

Manning perhaps announced to the world he was finally back in Week 6 of the 2012 season, overcoming a 24-point halftime deficit to lead Denver to a 35–24 victory over the Chargers. Coming off a loss to the Patriots, Manning harkened back to his comeback against the Buccaneers, slicing and dicing the San Diego defense in the second half of another Monday night classic. This time, Manning got more than enough help from his defense, which scored two touchdowns of its own during the second half. 


12/22/2013: Another Single-Season Record

Manning first broke the single-season record for touchdown passes in 2004, when he eclipsed Dan Marino by throwing for 48 scores. After Brady beat Manning’s mark, Peyton took reclaimed his spot during his magical 2013 season, throwing for an otherworldly 55 touchdown passes.

02/01/2014: Five MVPs

Although Manning’s incredible 2013 run did not end in a Super Bowl win, he did take home his fifth regular season MVP, which, you guessed it, is another record. Perhaps most impressive about Manning’s five MVPs is that the first and last came 10 years apart. That means once every two years for a whole decade, Manning was considered to be the best—if not, the most valuable—player in football.

SI VAULT: Peyton Manning: 2013 SI Sportsman of the Year

10/19/2014: Passing Favre

In Week 7 of the 2014 season, Manning passed Brett Favre to take over first place on the NFL’s list of passing touchdown leaders. The record pass came on an eight-yard score to Demaryius Thomas, and is just one of numerous records held by Manning.

The MMQB: How Peyton Manning’s exit compares to Brett Favre


02/07/2016: The Walk-Off

Manning didn’t end his career exactly like a storybook, deciding not to announce his retirement while holding the Lombardi Trophy amidst a shower of confetti. But Peyton Manning went out on top, with his last win coming in Super Bowl 50 on the heels of a dominant performance by the Broncos defense. It was a poetic end to the career of arguably the best quarterback of all time. After all the years Manning tried his hardest to carry his teams to victory, this time, his team carried him.

BISHOP: Wild Ride: Tale of Super Bowl 50 champs Broncos