NEW YORK, NY – 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).
Click here to view Manning’s Sportsman feature by SI Senior Writer Lee Jenkins. A high resolution JPEG of the cover can be downloaded by clicking here (see restrictions at bottom of release).
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.”