INDIANAPOLIS // Peyton Manning embraces all those titles he has had over the years. The No 1 draft pick, record-setter, most valuable player (MVP), perennial Pro Bowler and, naturally, Super Bowl champion. He's lived up to all of them, but the only one that really mattered to Manning was being called a winner. Now, after 11 seasons, Manning is within striking distance of becoming the biggest winner among quarterbacks in Indianapolis Colts' history. A win over Jacksonville Jaguars in Sunday's season-opener would tie him with Johnny Unitas' team record for career victories (118).
"That's something that so many people contributed to, and I'm proud to have been a part of that," says Manning. "The goal has always been to win, and that's what Unitas was, a winner." Many believe Manning's final numbers will wind up being the gold standard by which future generations of quarterbacks are measured - much like Unitas, Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino before him. And Brett Favre more recently.
Manning won a record-tying third league MVP award last season despite coming back from two surgeries for an infection in his left knee. He ranks fourth on the NFL's career list for touchdown passes (333), is seventh in yards passing (45,628) and has shown no signs of slowing down. He has broken Unitas' Colts records for attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns - in 30 fewer games than it took Unitas. Manning also broke Dan Marino's single-season record for touchdown passes with 49 in 2005 before Tom Brady shattered that.
And Manning has even been a key part of the record-setting accomplishments of others. He and Marvin Harrison combined for more completions, yards and touchdowns than any passing duo in league history, and it was Manning-to-Harrison that produced a record 143-catch season in 2002. Manning's nine seasons of at least 10 wins are tied for most in league history with Favre. His 117 career wins work out to a remarkable 10.7 per season.
"Eleven wins a season for 11 seasons, that's hard for anybody to do," said the Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, a four-time Super Bowl champ who played with Brady in New England. "He works hard in the weight room, on the field and in meetings, and he pulls everybody along with him. This franchise is extremely lucky to have him." "He prepares the exact same way every year," says the coach Jim Caldwell. "You can literally set your watch with his routine."
"I don't ever take for granted being able to start every game," Manning says. "I've just tried to be there every week for my team, and that's what I'm going to continue to do." * AP