JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Peyton Manning might not be ready to call it a career even if he leads the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Manning and the AFC champion Broncos arrived in New Jersey on Sunday night for the start of preparations for the big game next week at MetLife Stadium.
The Broncos quarterback, at a news conference aboard the Cornucopia Majesty cruise ship docked outside the team hotel, says he has no plans beyond next Sunday's Super Bowl, but adds that as of now, he "certainly" wants to continue playing.
"I know that there have been a number of players who have walked away as champions. I’m sure that it is a great feeling for those people. John Elway, Ray Lewis did it last year, and Michael Strahan. In talking to Ray Lewis, and talking to John Elway, they couldn’t play anymore. It was all they had to give. They truly left it all out there. I certainly had a career change two years ago with my injury and with changing teams. I’ve been truly on a one-year-at-a-time basis. So, I really have no plans beyond this game. I had no plans, coming into this season, beyond this year. I think that it is the healthy way to approach your career at this stage. I still enjoy playing football. I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point, coming off that surgery. I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the work part of it. Everybody enjoys the games. Everybody is going to be excited to play in a Super Bowl. When you still enjoy the preparation and the work part of it, I think you ought to be still doing that. I think as soon as I stop enjoying it, if I can’t produce, if I can’t help a team, that’s when I will stop playing. If that’s next year, then maybe it is. I certainly want to continue to keep playing."
Manning, trying to become the first starting QB to win Super Bowls with two teams, says he feels better than he thought he would at this point after undergoing two career-threatening neck surgeries two years ago.
Broncos head coach John Fox said having Manning at QB makes his job as coach easier.
"I’ve been doing this for a while, almost a quarter of a century. I forget what year I was a head coach. I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of great players. He’s obviously is one of them. In my opinion, no question, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in some point," Fox said. "He’s a tremendous, tremendous player as well as a guy, as far as what he went through. It’s a pretty different injury that he experienced. To work back and to learn a new offense, learn a new football team, learn a new city and two years later be in the Super Bowl is pretty incredible. I hope that’s glowing enough."
Manning is the favorite to win his fifth league MVP award, and is the indisputable face of this year's Super Bowl - the first in which the Broncos have played since John Elway won the second of consecutive titles in 1999.
After that victory, 34-19 over the Atlanta Falcons, Elway retired from the game a champion. Manning has spoken to Elway, now his boss in the Broncos front office, about walking away from the game after winning a ring. He has also spoken to former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who did the same last year after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.
They talked about how great a feeling it is, being able to go out on top, but Manning noted that there is a major difference between their situations and his.
"In talking to Ray Lewis and in talking with John Elway, they couldn't play anymore," Manning said. "That was all they had to give, and they truly left it all out there. I certainly had a career change two years ago with my injury and changing teams, so I truly have been kind of on a one-year-at-a-time basis. So, I really have no plans beyond this game. I had no plans coming into this season beyond this year.
"I think that's the healthy way to approach your career at this stage."
For those who work with Manning every day, they have no doubt the 37-year-old quarterback still approaches the game with the enthusiasm of a youngster.
"Absolutely, you can just tell he enjoys it and he loves it," said wide receiver Wes Welker, wearing an eye-catching bright orange suit. "He loves being around the guys. He loves the game-planning. He loves Sundays. You can just tell all of the aspects of the game he really enjoys.
"It's great to see and it definitely inspires me as well."
John Fox will be participating in his second Super Bowl as a head coach, and first since his Carolina Panthers lost to the New England Patriots in the 2004 game. He was sidelined a month earlier this season after needing open-heart surgery, so he knows a few things about quick comebacks.
But even he has been impressed by what Manning has been able to accomplish in two seasons with the Broncos.
"He's a tremendous, tremendous player as well as a guy, as far as what he went through," Fox said. "It's a pretty different injury that he experienced. To work back and to learn a new offense, learn a new football team, learn a new city and two years later be in the Super Bowl is pretty incredible.
"I hope that's glowing enough."
The Broncos, greeted by hundreds of bundled-up fans decked out in blue and orange outside the Hyatt Jersey City, also got a frosty taste of the bitterly cold weather - it was about 25 degrees when they arrived - they might have to play through next Sunday in East Rutherford. The game at MetLife Stadium will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather site.
"I don't mind," said smiling cornerback Champ Bailey, playing in the first Super Bowl of his 15-year career. "I'm used to Super Bowls being in better-weather cities, but I don't really care. When it's time to play, it's time to play."
And, after a long day of traveling from Denver to New Jersey that included two bus rides, a 3-plus-hour flight and a whirlwind interview session on a boat, the Broncos are ready to focus again on football. No matter the weather.
"We couldn't be more excited," Manning said. "The Super Bowl, it's a big deal. I know how hard it is to get here."