Should Peyton risk being paralyzed for life by playing again or should he retire? This has been the question since Peyton had his 3rd neck surgery in a year. It really depends on whether Peyton can forget that the next hit might be his last.
What do I mean?
I played wide receiver and defense, everywhere but linebacker, in high school. By played, it might be better to state I was on the team. I played in 8 games in 2 years, logged one tackle and 2 assisted tackles. I never even had a pass thrown my way when I was on offense and only one pass was thrown in my vicinity when I played defense. But I did learn a few valuable lessons while playing.
1.) Any play might be your last.
As the great Vince Lombardi once said, “Football isn’t a contact sport. It’s a collision sport.” In a practice, my legs got caught in the ground as our backs ran into me while I was on my knees. I felt a pop. Fortunately, I was hurt, not injured. By that, I mean I could still practice. I walked it off and returned to practice.
One of my teammates fielded a punt as a group of defenders bore down on him. He didn’t sense them coming and never called for the fair catch. His season ended with a torn ACL.
In an earlier game, we called a blitz. One of our linebackers came through untouched from their quarterback’s blindside. He hit the QB cleanly, but hard. As we celebrated the sack, we got real quiet because our bench, and theirs, noted the QB wasn’t moving. Several minutes later, he had regained conscience and was moving around, if a bit woozy. He was removed from the game, never to return, though he would play for that team again. As a player, you never want to see another player get seriously injured. It’s a dangerous game.
Former Lion guard, Mike Utley, was paralyzed while blocking a Los Angeles Rams Defensive Tackle. He wasn’t touched, and there was nothing obvious about the play that indicated what happened. No one even hit him. Yet he had to learn to walk all over. He does walk now, a miracle in and of itself, but does so with a cane.
2.) You can’t play scared.
I’m 5’9, and my junior year I was about 132 lbs., maybe 150 in pads. During a blowout, we were unfortunately on the receiving end, the coach was clearing the bench and put me in…..at defensive end. As I lined up in my spot, I saw the guy I was facing had at least several inches on me, and likely 100 lbs. I’ll admit it, I was scared. The guy was huge. On the third play I was in, I shot across the line and made a line for the running back on a pitch. Too bad a large guard was barreling towards me. I went flying into the path of the nearby outside linebacker, taking his feet out from under him.
He could’ve been hurt. He could’ve been angry. He was neither. He just told me more or less I was letting some backup throw me around. The next play, I shot the gap at the snap, cut the fullback’s legs out from under him and created a pile, where the runner was stuffed. Next play they ran the other way and I chased him down from behind. The third play I was one of three players to gang tackle the runner. We forced a punt. I started doing better because I stopped worrying about whether I’d get hurt and just played. (By the way, part of being scared was making him bigger than he was. In reality, he had three inches and about 40 lbs. on me. Not as big as I thought.)
Charles Rogers was the no. 2 pick out of Michigan State by the Detroit Lions in 2003. That year he hit the ground hard in practice and broke his collarbone. The next year he came back and rebroke his collarbone in a game. He was never the same, seeming tentative and unsure of himself. Although there are many causes as to why he’s out of football now, I argue that part of it was that he started thinking about what would happen if he landed on that shoulder again.
Many runners take 2 years to recover from ACL tears. Why? Because even though it doesn’t take a year to heal from the surgery, trust is another story. Will the knee hold up when they go to make a cut? That trust comes with time and practice. Some runners never fully trust their knee again.
What does this mean for Manning?
Is his neck fully healed? If yes, he should play. If not, retire. He’s a guaranteed Hall of Famer and has nothing left to prove. Can he play without thinking about what could happen if he gets hit and lands awkwardly? This is the multi-million dollar question. If he can, then he should, by all means. He’s a competitor and it had to be very frustrating watching what happened this season. If he thinks the Colts will be better with him at QB, he should return. But if he can’t play without thinking about his neck….he shouldn’t play. If he plays worried about being hurt, he won’t play to the best of his ability and will only hurt the Colts, and more importantly, himself.