Jim Corbett / USA TODAY
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Archie Manning had reason to fear the worst when middle son Peyton first attempted throwing a football following his September 2011 spinal-fusion surgery in his bid to continue his historic career.
"I didn't think he'd make it back to play again," Archie Manning told USA TODAY Sports during Super Bowl week. "I knew he had a long ways to go. And I knew this about Peyton: He didn't have to be totally 100%. But I knew he had to get up there where he felt he could play.
"He wasn't going to try to fool anybody and be 60%. So I knew he wouldn't do that, and he would end his career."
The warning for the former New Orleans Saints quarterback, who along with wife Olivia raised sons Cooper, Peyton and New York Giants two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli, was that Cooper's promising career as a University of Mississippi freshman ended with his serious neck issue.
"After what happened to Cooper, Peyton said he'd never take playing football for granted," Archie Manning said. "Still, 14 years with the Colts was a good career. But he wasn't ready for it to end."
Two seasons later, the 37-year-old Denver Broncos quarterback chases his second Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVIII after breaking the single-season record for touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477).
Win or lose Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks, Manning insisted several times this week that if his neck checks out in a March examination, he'll return for more.
His dad smiles while reflecting on how far Peyton has come from perhaps having played his last game 16 months ago to earning his fifth league MVP. He is playing better than ever while surrounded with the strongest cast of weaponry in receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, tight end Julius Thomas and 1,000-yard running back Knowshon Moreno.
"No, I don't think he'll be retiring after this Super Bowl," Archie Manning said. "Peyton is having too much fun. The good Lord blessed him. And wherever his arm strength, whether it's 80, or 85 or 90%, he's good enough to play the way he is. And we're all grateful."
This Super Bowl is a referendum on the contrasting quarterback styles of Manning, the classic pocket passer, versus the new-age, dual-threat Russell Wilson, who at 5-11, 206 pounds is running to throw.
Former Colts general manager Bill Polian, who selected Manning first overall in the 1998 draft, says that despite their stark physical and stylistic differences – Manning is 6-5, 230 pounds – they are similar.
"They couldn't be more disparate in style of play or build," Polian, now an ESPN analyst, said. "But the thing that makes them ultimately winners is that they're kindred spirits when it comes to intelligence, preparation, leadership and dedication on and off the field. And that's ultimately the hallmark of a good quarterback you look for as an evaluator: Are you a good decision maker with the ball in your hand? These guys are."
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage says that savvy decision making is what league evaluators will be seeking in this 2014 draft class,which features prospects Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Derek Carr of Fresno State.
"This Super Bowl shows the league is capable of having these contrasting quarterback styles be successful," Savage said. "There's no Peyton Manning in this class. But there might be a few Russell Wilsons who could go outside the top 10 in the second, third round. All the quarterbacks in this draft are going to need to play complementary football. Johnny Manziel is really a smaller Brett Favre."
Manning had a season for the ages, while Wilson, 25, is just getting started.
"Whether he wins this Super Bowl or not, Peyton is going to be considered a Mount Rushmore quarterback these younger quarterbacks like Russell aspire to become," two-time Super Bowl winner Jim Plunkett said.
"Archie and I came out of college together in 1971. If his health remains good, I don't see why Peyton would walk away. Because he's playing better than he's ever played in his life."