SANTA CLARA, Calif. - We've been talking about it all year - Is this the last we see of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning in the NFL?
The discussion started to ramp up earlier this year: Ravaged with injuries, Manning led the league in interceptions, and he didn't even play a full season.
His performance dip and seeming inability to throw 'em like he used to in just the first few games of the season made the questions come up frequently:
"Is he done?"
"Can he do it anymore?"
"Is this the time to call it a career?"
Despite all the noise and negativity, The Sheriff got the Denver Broncos back to the Super Bowl by using what is still among the sharpest in the league: His football intelligence.
It's no secret that Manning, 39, can't hit those 40-yard passes downfield in stride anymore, but what is a secret is how Peyton is able to read defenses as well as he does, shifting his offense to exploit weakness, audibling when he sees an opportunity, and almost always choosing the right throw to make, even if it isn't as sharp of a delivery as it once was.
WATCH in the video player above: Our sports team has debated what will happen with Peyton all year. See those discussions and the Q&A with you about Manning's future.
The debate really bubbled up when Manning had to take a back-seat to Brock Osweiler, the back-up for the Denver Broncos. Manning's torn plantar fascia got the best of him, allowing him to barely surpass the all-time record for yards in a career in the NFL, only to come out a few plays later in Week 10. This came a week after the attempt at the record was abruptly halted thanks to a valiant effort by none other than your Indianapolis Colts, when they beat the Broncos in Week 9, 27-24.
The questions flew even faster when Osweiler was named the starter in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers with the No. 1 seed in the playoffs on the line over an active Manning. Peyton did come in after halftime to win that game, and secure the No. 1 seed.
“Our defense has been outstanding all season,” Manning said after their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs. “They’ve led us to this point. Let’s make that clear.”
As the playoffs progressed, more signs pointed to Manning's mind being made up.
"(Peyton and Demarcus Ware) were very emotional and near tears," Broncos team president Joe Ellis told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. "Peyton told a few jokes to lighten the mood, but then he got very emotional [when talking about what the game meant to him]. And so did DeMarcus. The room was silent. It was a very emotional gathering."
He's been here before -- It's not as if this is a fleeting moment for one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
Then there's the matter of how Peyton might retire, should he decide to do so. Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, wants him to retire as one of their own.
Two Super Bowls with Indianapolis. Two Super Bowls with Denver. One win, one yet to be played.
A victory over the almost-undefeated Carolina Panthers would certainly even the score of impact on both franchises, but Manning's legacy on this Midwestern community far surpasses that of his time spent in Denver.
"I don't think it's going to be (immediate) announcement Sunday night," Eli Manning said. "I don't think he's even thought about it. He'll take some time when the season is over. It's all football right now."
You can expect Peyton to take a few days, win or lose, to let the hype around whichever team wins Sunday to die down and then come to the table with the best decision for him and his family. You can expect him to deliver the decision with class, and with respect for both the Broncos organization and their fans.
After all, he has said approximately 74 times this season that he won't make a final decision until after the season is over.
Whatever the decision is, Indianapolis is behind you, Peyton. And we thank you for what's been an incredible 20-year ride.