By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) He owns the most 4,000-yard passing seasons of any quarterback in NFL history, already has a Super Bowl ring on his finger and is the only player ever to win four MVPs.
Fox Sports has named him the NFL’s Player of the Decade, the NFL Network has named him the eighth-best player of all-time, and SI.com has named him as the guy who earned a whopping $38,070,000 in salary and endorsements.
In 2011 alone.
So, tell me, what more does Peyton Manning have to play for?
On Thursday evening it was revealed that Manning has received medical clearance to return to the NFL from the California surgeon who performed his spinal fusion procedure on Sept. 8.
Hours later, however, Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay fired off a 1:25 a.m. tweet that read: “Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts.” Irsay’s late-night missive made it sound increasingly likely that Manning and the only NFL franchise that he’s ever known are headed for a less-than-amicable split.
The thing I can’t really understand, though, is why Peyton isn’t just headed for retirement instead. Especially when he and his family already know the risks involved with spinal issues and football all too well.
In 1992, Peyton’s elder, but lesser-known brother, Cooper, discovered those risks at just the age of 18 when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that causes pressure on the spinal cord.
At the time, the 6-foot-4 Cooper was an all-state wide receiver for Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans and headed to play at Ole Miss, where his dad first launched the Manning family legend. Instead, though, due to his medical condition, Cooper’s football career ended before it ever even really began.
This week, the New York Daily News conducted a Q&A with Cooper, who’s gone on to have a successful career at Howard Weil, an energy investment banking firm based in New Orleans and Houston. During the interview, he was asked if Peyton’s neck conditions are at all similar to those that he experienced as a teen.
“No, not at all. Unrelated,” Cooper said.
The Daily News then asked, “It’s not anything that runs in the family?” To which, Cooper simply replied: “Correct.”
Now, I’m not going to argue with Cooper if he says that Peyton’s neck condition isn’t something genetic, even if I’ve long suspected that it is. Spinal issues experienced by two of three sons in one family does seem like quite the coincidence to me. But, even if it that’s all it is – a coincidence – it still seems that Cooper’s history should have long ago showed Peyton that it’s unwise to stick one’s neck out too far.
Especially when you don’t have to at all.
Consider just what the soon-to-be 36-year-old Peyton Manning is. Taking into account the self-afflicted PR wounds suffered by the likes of LeBron James and Tiger Woods, Peyton – with his “aw, shucks” charm, good sense of humor and great sense of timing – is arguably the most marketable athlete in sports today.
His future off the field couldn’t be brighter, whether he decides to take up coaching, broadcasting or simply relaxing. During his surefire Hall of Fame career, the guy’s done it all and he’s won it all. He truly has nothing left to prove to anyone, and that should include himself.
So, why then is he still thinking about risking everything?
I understand that Peyton could still earn millions more by playing additional seasons of football. I get it that he’s an intensely competitive guy. But none of that is a good reason for risking a potentially catastrophic spinal injury on the football field, which could cost him future millions and remove him from life’s competition.
This isn’t a knee condition we’re talking about, after all.
It’s a neck.
This week, the Daily News asked Cooper if he’s concerned that Peyton’s career is over. He answered: “I’m not. Peyton’s body is going to answer all the questions. He’s a smart guy. He is going to do what’s right.
“If he can play and play to the ability he thinks is good enough to be competitive, he will out there and be fine. He’s not going to do anything where the doctors say ‘you are in serious jeopardy, don’t do it,’ and then go be reckless. He’s going to listen to the doctors and listen to his body and make the right decision.”
When it comes to his health and his future, I think the right decision is already quite clear.
Beyond that, some reasons why people have always liked about Peyton Manning is that he hasn’t ever been a diva, hasn’t fled from his fate like a madman and hasn’t treated the public’s emotions as his personal plaything.
Not like another legendary quarterback we all know. And with that in mind, my final bit of friendly advice to Peyton Manning is this:
Brett Favre is finally retired.
Don’t become the new Brett Favre.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.