Peyton Manning Has One More Ghost To K.O.

Broncos cover 1.27.14Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26–16 win over the Patriots in the AFC championship game, appears on the national cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/27/14)—on newsstands NOW. Manning broke the single season record for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in 2013 and will now lead Denver to its first trip to the Super Bowl since 1999. Still, despite his stellar season in the Mile High City, Manning has one more ghost to exorcise: The playoff choke. In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl pundits will undoubtedly point out Manning’s perfectly average stats in two Super Bowls: two TDs, two INTs and an 85.4 passer rating. In SI’s 10 Things We Think We Think Super Bowl XLVIII preview, Andrew Lawrence writes, “Manning is certain to hear the choker talk from the minute he steps off the plane in New York. Which is perhaps what Broncos vice president John Elway—the two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer whose outsized reputation crushed every Denver quarterback who followed him, until now—was driving at last week when he said that Manning doesn’t get enough credit. That’s a laughable statement to make about a four-time MVP, until you measure it against Manning’s intake of grief. ‘I’ll be honest with you: As a parent, I get tired of it,’ said a typically awe-shucks Archie Manning, from the eye of a delirious Broncos locker room. ‘You play 16 years . . . so what’s he played in? Twenty-two postseason games? And he’s kind of being ridiculed. I mean, I played in zero postseason games. I can tell you a bunch of guys in my era, quarterbacks, buddies of mine—they’d love to say they played in 22 postseason games. . . . My text count just hit 108 since the game’s ended. The last one I got is [from] Fran Tarkenton. So there are a lot of guys out there who played the game, friends of mine, friends of Peyton, who are proud of him.’” (Page 41)

The Broncos led the NFL in total offense, passing, receiving and touchdowns scored during the regular season. The Seahawks led the league in total defense, pass defense and interceptions. So what happens when the most prolific passing offense in history meets a secondary of superheroes? Writes Lawrence, “The Seahawks boast the league’s top defense, but who has challenged them, really? Throw out the Saints, whose fourth-rated attack is as one-dimensional as it is explosive, and the average rank of the offenses that Seattle has faced is 23rd. The people who still hew to the thinking that defense wins championships clearly haven’t watched the last four Super Bowls. In three of them all the best defense won was an up-close view of the winner’s confetti shower. If Peyton wins at MetLife Stadium, he’d become the only quarterback walking around with rings from two different teams. He would be able to smile, and maybe even lose the Manning face, safe in the knowledge that his greatness is no longer in doubt.” (Page 41)

So it’ll be the best cornerback in the league versus the best quarterback in the league. SI Senior writer Peter King is putting his money on Manning and predicting a Pot Roast: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24.

 For Peter King’s early thoughts on Super Bowl XLVIII click here:

Knowshon Moreno: The Truth Behind A Bronco’s Tears

02COVv17broncos_PromoKnowshon Moreno, the Broncos’ star running back whose monstrous tears during the national anthem at Denver’s  Dec. 1 game against the Chiefs shocked the world, is one of three regional covers for this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/13/14)—on newsstands NOW. On the surface it would appear that Moreno wouldn’t have much to cry about in the Mile High City: 2013 was a breakout season in his five year NFL career. He ran for a career high 1,380 yards, including 224 yards on the road against the Patriots in Week 12, and ten touchdowns during the regular season. Still, Moreno’s super-sized tear ducts and over-the-top emotions were a sight to behold. Writes SI senior writer Tim Layden, “You saw those tears and you wondered, What makes a player cry like that before a game? Especially a player like Knowshon Moreno, who is finally thriving in the NFL. In addition to his rushing stats, he caught 60 passes for 548 yards, by far the best in his career, and three more TDs. And he did this for a team with 13 wins and home field for as long as it survives in the AFC playoffs—Denver will face the Chargers on Jan. 12—peaking- with a 37-carry, 224-yard game in the bitter cold against the -Patriots on Nov. 24. ‘He’s been our bell cow,’ says coach John Fox, evoking the bovine metaphor that coaches lovingly employ to describe the most reliable of running backs. Moreno has earned Manning’s trust and respect, and there is no more valuable currency in the Broncos’ locker room—or in any locker room west of Foxborough. ‘He’s a horse,’ says Manning, opting for the equine metaphor. ‘I love his passion. I love his intensity. I love having him standing next to me back there. It’s a very comfortable feeling.’” (Page 50)

The respect and admiration that coaches and teammates have for Moreno is unmistakable. Even guys he competes with for playing time praise his leadership and professionalism. So given all that, and the fact that a new contract is looming once the season is over, why the tears? “Not uncommon at all,” Moreno says. It’s always been that way for me, all the way back to high school and college. During the anthem it’s always quiet and still, so I take in the moment and say a little prayer. Usually there’s no camera on me. I thank the Lord for letting me play the game. I thank Him for everything. I run through my whole life right there at that moment. Even the bad stuff.” (Page 50) | SI senior writer, Tim Layden



Sportsman CoverNEW YORK, NY (December 15) – Sports Illustrated today announced that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the 2013 Sportsman of the Year. After winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2012, Manning returned to the Mile High City to anchor the Broncos’ high-octane offense, which leads the league in total offense (453.4 ypg), passing (333.6 ypg), receiving (344.4 ypg) and points scored (535). Manning’s 47 touchdown passes during the Broncos’ 11–3 start puts him four TDs away from breaking Tom Brady’s record for most touchdowns thrown in a season. Manning is just one of eight professional football players to be named Sportsman. He joins Pete Rozelle (1963), Terry Bradshaw (’79), Reggie Williams (’87), Joe Montana (’90), Tom Brady (2005), Brett Favre (’07), and Drew Brees (’10).  To download a high resolution JPEG of the cover click here.

Annually, the magazine presents the Sportsman of the Year award to the athlete, coach or team that demonstrates superior athletic achievement.  The award debuted in 1954, and in describing the feats of the first Sportsman, Roger Bannister, the editors introduced the award’s guiding principle: “While the victory may have been his, it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather, it is for the quality of his effort and manner of his striving.”

“At first, when I knew we were considering Manning, I thought: good choice. Lifetime-achievement-award choice,” says SI Senior Writer and NFL guru Peter King. “But if you isolate this year, you’re looking at a player two years removed from four neck procedures that would have prompted many 35-year-old legends to choose retirement. He has his Super Bowl. He has his MVPs. Now he’s on the verge of breaking the most important single-season quarterback records (touchdown passes and passing yards) in the 94-year history of the game. He threw seven touchdown passes against the defending Super Bowl champs. And he’s got his team set to win the top seed in the AFC. Who plays his best—wounded, with so many great young guns chasing him—at 37?”

For Manning’s Sportsman feature SI Senior Writer Lee Jenkins began his odyssey in Tennessee, where Manning played college football. There, Jenkins and SI reporter Emily Kaplan connected with a generation of teens who had been named for the three-time All-America. In this group Jenkins and Kaplan found valedictorians, musicians, a short-film director, a state wrestling champion who was also the first girl, and first deaf person, in her school’s all-male wrestling club. The first noticeable spike in newborns named for Peyton, Jenkins writes, occurred in late summer 1996—10 months after Manning directed a Vols win over Alabama.

“There are a lot of great athletes in American sports,” Jenkins says, “but only a few truly connect to their public. I often wonder why that is, how they make the connection, how they sustain it. There’s not usually a great answer. But I do know that Manning is one of the few who connects, and the best evidence are all those babies who were named Peyton when he was just a sophomore in college. Even though Manning comes from immense privilege—famous father, private high school, No. 1 recruit, No. 1 pick in the draft—he connected with working folks from East Tennessee, from Appalachia. I think that’s largely because of his parents. The Mannings aren’t all the same, but they have one quality in common: They never make you feel below them.”

After 14 seasons in Indianapolis, Manning, the only four-time MVP in NFL history, said goodbye to the Colts in 2012 with a shaky voice and tear-filled eyes. “I have no idea who wants me, what team wants me, how this process works,” Manning said at the time. “I don’t know if it’s like college recruiting where you go take visits. I mean, this is all so new to me.” Of course, everyone wanted him and the Broncos were the lucky winners. When he arrived in Denver for his first free-agent visit, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway saw an unfamiliar side of Manning. “He was in shock,” Elway says. “Everybody kept telling him he was going to get released [by the Colts], and he didn’t believe them until it happened. He wanted to prove they made the wrong decision. He wouldn’t say that, because he’s not that type of guy, but that’s the message I got. When great competitors get scorned, they come back with a vengeance. We signed a Hall of Famer with a chip on his shoulder.”

Also from the story:

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: “He set the standard. We’ve been playing a long time in the same era, and there aren’t too many people who can relate to what I go through on a daily basis and what he goes through, besides each other. There’s mutual appreciation. I’ve always looked up to him and admired him.”

To see a gallery of photos of Manning over the years go to


The following is a list of Sportsmen:

1954 Roger Bannister, Track 1975 Pete Rose, Baseball 1995 Cal Ripken Jr., Baseball
1955 Johnny Podres, Baseball 1976 Chris Evert, Tennis 1996 Tiger Woods, Golf
1956 Bobby Morrow, Track 1977 Steve Cauthen, Horse Racing 1997 Dean Smith, College Basketball
1957 Stan Musial, Baseball 1978 Jack Nicklaus, Golf 1998 Mark McGwire, Baseball
1958 Rafer Johnson, Track 1979 Terry Bradshaw, Pro Football   Sammy Sosa, Baseball
1959 Ingemar Johansson, Boxing   Willie Stargell, Baseball 1999 U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
1960 Arnold Palmer, Golf 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team 2000 Tiger Woods, Golf
1961 Jerry Lucas, College Basketball 1981 Sugar Ray Leonard, Boxing 2001 Randy Johnson, Baseball
1962 Terry Baker, College Football 1982 Wayne Gretzky, Pro Hockey   Curt Schilling, Baseball
1963 Pete Rozelle, Pro Football 1983 Mary Decker, Track 2002 Lance Armstrong, Cycling
1964 Ken Venturi, Golf 1984 Edwin Moses, Track 2003 Tim Duncan, Pro Basketball
1965 Sandy Koufax, Baseball   Mary Lou Retton, Gymnastics   David Robinson, Pro Basketball
1966 Jim Ryun, Track 1985 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pro Basketball 2004 Boston Red Sox
1967 Carl Yastrzemski, Baseball 1986 Joe Paterno, College Football 2005 Tom Brady, Pro Football
1968 Bill Russell, Pro Basketball 1987 Athletes Who Care 2006 Dwyane Wade, Pro Basketball
1969 Tom Seaver, Baseball 1988 Orel Hershiser, Baseball 2007 Brett Favre, Pro Football
1970 Bobby Orr, Pro Hockey 1989 Greg LeMond, Cycling 2008 Michael Phelps, Swimming
1971 Lee Trevino, Golf 1990 Joe Montana, Pro Football 2009 Derek Jeter, Baseball
1972 Billie Jean King, Tennis 1991 Michael Jordan, Pro Basketball 2010 Drew Brees, Pro Football
  John Wooden, College Basketball 1992 Arthur Ashe Tennis 2011 Pat Summitt, College Basketball
1973 Jackie Stewart, Auto Racing 1993 Don Shula, Pro Football   Mike Krzyzewski, College Basketball
1974 Muhammad Ali, Boxing 1994 Bonnie Blair, Speed Skating 2012 LeBron James, Pro Basketball
    Johann Olav Koss, Speed Skating 2013 Peyton Manning, Pro Football

Peyton Manning and Wes Welker: A Fantasy Football Dream and Scary Real-Life Duo

The new Broncos teammates grace the national cover of this week’s SI along with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker

33COVBroncosv28PromoWith fantasy football drafts around the corner, this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED previews the top fantasy football players at each position and also takes a closer look at some of the NFL’s star players. Among the highest rated at their respective positions in SI’s fantasy rankings—Peyton Manning (No. 3 QB) and Wes Welker (No. 14 WR), along with Broncos teammates Demaryius Thomas (No. 6 WR) and Eric Decker (No. 15 WR)—appear on the national cover of this week’s SI, on newsstands now. Senior writer Chris Ballard spent time with both Welker and Manning for this week’s issue and writes that the fantasy dream duo is now the league’s most frightening reality. Ballard also reveals more about the little known Welker.

Despite making five Pro Bowls, playing in two Super Bowls and setting an NFL record by catching more than 110 passes in each of his five seasons with the Patriots, Welker is still somewhat unknown. “After six seasons inside Bill Belichick’s cone of silence, in which thou shalt not raise any individual above the team, it turns out we know surprisingly little about Wes Welker,” writes Ballard. (PAGE 32)

Upon becoming a free agent last winter, Welker says “there were only two places I was going to play [Denver and New England], in my mind.” Once the Broncos came into the picture, Welker texted Manning, who enthusiastically wooed him. “Reminded me a little bit of the old college recruiting days,” Manning says. (PAGE 32) After being offered a two-year, $10 million deal from the Patriots, Welker decided to sign with Denver for two years and $12 million, joining Manning as two of the most unlikely free-agent pickups in sports history. Asked if they’ve talked about their parallel narratives, Manning pauses for a moment. “We haven’t really shared that,” he says. “I think each situation is unique. I know that was not an easy time for him. For me, I know I became more comfortable when I got back on the field.” (PAGE 38)

Toward the end in New England, Welker says Belichick got on him in a way he never had before, admonishing him in front of the team. “It was just kind of hard,” Welker says, “one of those deals where you have to endure him, put up with him. . . .But he does it to everybody, it’s the way he is.”  (PAGE 34) Belichick’s ways still affect Welker. “When I’m answering questions from the Denver media, I’m not worried about what the Broncos’ people are going to think,” Welker says. “I’m worried about what Belichick will think. Isn’t that crazy?” (PAGE 34)

So what does he think of his former quarterback, Tom Brady? At first, he couldn’t stand him. “He was very intense, wanted it done a certain way and was like, You can’t do it a different way,” says Welker. He says he soon came to appreciate Brady’s intensity; that he’s one of the toughest players in the NFL; that he is a slave to “the best moisturizers”; and that, in the end, he became a combination of Welker’s big brother and best friend. (PAGE 31)

Welker is working hard to learn Denver’s new offensive system. He says, “In New England, if the middle of the field was closed, I’d run a seam route. It’s something I’ve been doing for six years now, so I have to teach my brain to do it the way he’s [Manning] expecting me to do it.” Asked if he could still try to be creative on his routes, Welker laughs. “At the end of the day you run it the way he wants it, or he won’t throw it to you,” he says. (PAGE 38)

A key to Welker’s success is his renowned work ethic—he says his mantra is “Dominate every day”—and he believes it’s a key to his success .“Guys will play basketball with their boys and think that’s their workout for the day,” Welker says, amazed. “That’s not a workout. I wish they gave us more time off, to be honest. This is where I gain on other players.” (PAGE 33)

Welker, who has been doubted since his high school days, says he doesn’t mind flying under the radar. “Most people growing up just want to get famous, then they get famous and want to be normal people,” he says. “I blend in a lot more than most.” He adds, “Everything in the game is about making something look one way, and it actually being the other.” (PAGE 39)

Work In Progress? Scary

Von MillerWhile Peyton Manning’s arrival may be the most credited reason for Denver’s ascent to the top of the AFC this season, the maturation of Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller from one-trick pony to a complete linebacker may be just as significant writes senior writer Jim Trotter in this week’s issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. After earning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 thanks in part to his 11 ½ sacks, Miller has taken his game to the next level this season, having recorded 18 ½ sacks, six forced fumbles and his first career NFL interception (which he returned for a TD). While initially being known just as a dominant pass rusher, Miller now wants to be considered amongst the best all around defenders in the league. “I’m a true linebacker. I believe that in my heart,” says Miller. “I want to be a dominant run stopper. I want guys to say when they see 58, they’ve got to go to the other side.”

Miller grew up in East Texas in a home where his parents instilled values such as hard work, respect and accountability. His father once told him, “You have to be your biggest critic.”  At only 23 years old, he has certainly taken his dad’s advice to heart. “It’s not the amount of success you’ve had,” says Miller, “it’s the respect you get in the locker room as a leader, as The Guy. The organization brought me in to be that guy, and I feel like I’ve taken steps in that direction. But I still have a long way to go (page 58).

The Last Days of 63

In the 42 years since Tom Dempsey kicked the longest field goal in NFL history, his mark has been matched three times but never surpassed. Now the most mysteriously enduring record in sports may finally be ripe to fall. Sixty-three should have fallen years ago, as kickers became more deadeye snipers – more explosive, more accurate and better schooled from a younger age-but the record remains intact, shared by a logjam of four kickers across 42 years of football. It has been protected by circumstance, strategy, worship at the altar of field position and, in no small part, the inherent challenge of guiding a football 63 yards through an opening 10 feet off the ground and 18 feet, 6 inches wide.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the Cover: Peyton’s Back and That Could Be Trouble for the Rest of the League

Sept. 17, 2012 Sports Illustrated Cover

Peyton Manning’s commanding performance against Pittsburgh put many Broncos fans worries at ease. After completing 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, there is a feeling in Denver that this team could have a special season. Manning’s dominating performance in first game in more than 20 months lands him on the cover of the Sept. 17, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. This is the 11th time Manning has appeared on the cover, the first time since Nov. 16, 2009.

After signing with Denver in March, Manning immediately moved in with his old college teammate, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. Throughout the summer Manning would put in long hours, rehabbing his neck, learning the playbook and gathering his receivers for informal throwing sessions. Wide receiver Eric Decker told senior writer Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck), “We were trying to keep it light, but it was a pretty serious vibe. We wanted to show him that we could do things the right way and that coming here was the right choice”.

 With a performance like this on opening weekend, the expectations in Denver will grow larger. When asked about that possibility, Manning said, “I don’t really carry that burden. I know how hard I’ve worked to get back to this position, how much time I’ve put into rehab, how much time I continue to put in. I’m gonna play as hard as I possibly can. That’s all I know to do.”


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