During his Super Bowl press conference on Monday, Peyton Manning played coy when asked if Sunday's game would be the final one of his career. Manning's one of the all-time greats — a five-time AP MVP who's been named to 14 Pro Bowls — but he'll turn 40 in March, and he battled injuries this year in his worst season as a pro. But while he told reporters Monday night that he hasn't yet decided whether he'll retire, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reports that, in private, he's told close friends that he expects this to be his last game.
On the NFL Network, Rapoport said it's just a matter of when he'll announce it — this week before the Super Bowl, on the podium if the Broncos win, or perhaps sometime in the weeks after the game. But the decision, according to Rapoport, has already been made. "The reality is he let the cat out of the bag a little bit," Rapoport said. "I also know he has told close friends that he expects this to be his last game as well."
There's been much speculation that this season would be Manning's last, and Manning did drop a hint after the AFC title game that his career could be winding down this winter. He told Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the field after Denver's win that this might be his "last rodeo." (Manning said Monday that he told Tom Brady the same thing. "I understand this really could be it and I wanted to tell both of them I really have enjoyed these games," he said.)
But for now, in public, Manning says he doesn't yet know what his future holds. "It would be one thing if you were asking me this and we were 4–11 with one game to go," Manning said Monday night. "But somehow, some way we are playing in the Super Bowl and I get to start at quarterback. I haven't gotten too reflective and too 'big picture.' I haven't made my mind up. I have just stayed in the moment. At some point after the season. I will have a comprehensive analysis. But I am at peace with it. I am a realist."