They say that all good things come to an end, and so it has come to pass that two of the NFL’s current greats are possibly calling it quits after this season. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is rumored to have said this Sunday’s Super Bowl will be his last game, while Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. reportedly told the team that he will not return to football next season.
The son of NFL great Archie Manning, Peyton Manning has been at the top of the league since he was picked first overall in the 1998 NFL draft. He spent the majority of his career, 14 seasons in total, playing with the Indiana Colts before joining to the Denver Broncos for the 2012 season. He’s been the league MVP five times and appeared in the Super Bowl four times, winning Super Bowl XLI in 2006. As far as the impact on the NFL, some experts credit Manning and his style of play with the league’s overall shift from primarily running offense to primarily throwing offense.
For an entire generation of football fans, Manning is the epitome of a quarterback and symbol of the NFL.
Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson, also called Megatron, has been hailed as one of the most physically gifted athletes in the NFL. In 2012, ESPN’s Sports Science did a package on Johnson’s physical prowess, clocking him as fast as 2010’s fastest running back — which is unusual for a wide receiver — and able to reach as high as 12 feet and 5 inches, higher than anyone in the NBA. According to its calculations, from a standing position, Megatron would be able to reach anything in the area of a standard two-car garage.
His statistics are as impressive as his physical build. The Lions have not been known for consistency over Johnson’s nine-year career, yet he has been able to produce top numbers, including the record for most receiving yards in one season.
Both men are well accomplished in their respective positions and have undoubtedly left two unforgettable marks on professional football. However, they represent two very different directions in which the NFL may be heading.
Manning is 39 years old. He’s been playing professionally since he graduated from the University of Tennessee, and this season is his 19th in the NFL. Last season, he faced injuries and speculation as to whether he would play or not. In response to doubts about his ability to continue to perform on the field, Manning took his team to the Super Bowl.
Manning seemingly cannot be stopped by age or ravaged by time. At almost 40, he’s again won his way to the Super Bowl against some players who are only a bit over half his age. If this is not his last season, how long can he last before he’s injured to the point of no return?
Megatron has taken the opposite route. Facing ankle injuries and overall wear and tear, Johnson is taking himself out of the game. With increased awareness about the strain a career in football has on athletes’ bodies, Johnson may be on the forefront of a trend. More and more studies are revealing long-term negative effects of playing football, and in 2015, the movie Concussion told the story of forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu. Omalu attempted to conduct research on brain trauma in NFL players after finding in an autopsy that former Steelers center Mike Webster died as a result of repeated blows to the head. However, he met stiff opposition from the NFL, which did not want the information to become public, for obvious reasons.
Moving forward, as more and more information about the effects of football injuries is made available to players, it will be interesting to see if the up-and-coming stars follow the steps of Manning, who continued to play through injuries, or Johnson, who chose his health over remaining on the field. Granted, there are differences in the amount of contact quarterbacks and wide receivers endure, but across the board, there may be a shift from longer careers to shorter ones.
Manning’s retirement is not yet official, but if he remains in the NFL, he faces the risk of aggravating existing injuries or contracting new ones. For Johnson, there’s no more risk of a taking a bad hit or otherwise being harmed on the field. Endings to careers can be sad for fans and teams, but the option to end careers without major or permanent harm to players is a happily ever after which athletes hopefully begin to opt for.