In any game that has such a rich history like the National Football League player comparisons are endless, shortcomings are extenuated and the present is often overlooked while the past or future is magnified. Thursday, Denver Broncos fans were given possibly their last chance to witness greatness.

Peyton Manning has officially been brought back for another year, despite trepidations from some fans. Winning trumps everything in professional sports and championships are and always will be the goal. Fans can hope for a championship in 2014-15 but they can count on and marvel in watching Manning work his magic one last time.

When it is all said and done Manning may or may not have brought a championship to Denver but one thing will be certain. He brought greatness back to the quarterback position of the Broncos. Every quarterback in the history of professional football must possess three things for success. A mental and physical toughness, work ethic through possible success and guaranteed failure and most of all, talent are essential. Manning has those three traits in spades and spectators shouldn’t look too far in the past and certainly shouldn’t look past the present when Manning begins his last hurrah.

Playing in the NFL is a feat that remains an almost impossible possibility for the population of athletes in the world and to excel at that level is even rarer. For all those people that say Manning plays scared or isn’t tough are either not watching close enough or have a short memories.

His toughness can be equated with some quick numbers. He has been sacked 287 times and hit several hundred times while playing in 17 NFL seasons by some of the strongest, most athletic human beings on the planet. You can add a few hundred more times in college, high school and as a runt down in Louisiana. Outside of the 2011 season, he played in every game since he was drafted in 1998. He famously suffered a neck injury in 2010 and had three serious surgeries to try and salvage his career. Those procedures in 2011 rendered him almost unable to throw a wad of paper in a trash can ten feet away. His comeback is nothing short of miraculous. The many other seemingly trivial injuries he played through don’t bear mentioning after something so serious but surely have taken their toll on his 38 year-old body as well, yet he persevered.

In spite of these limitations he has arrived in Denver and had arguably two of the best three seasons of his illustrious career. He has won his NFL-record fifth MVP award, thrown for 131 touchdowns to only 36 interceptions and has led what was a struggling franchise back to relevance every season. Yet somehow people are never satisfied. Of course Manning is disappointed in the overall outcome and fans can be too but it is unfortunate to think that people cannot just enjoy greatness while it lasts.

Manning, after successes like his 2007 Super Bowl and disappointments like the 2012 Baltimore Ravens game debacle has had a unwaivering work ethic. It is the type of effort that is rarely seen in sports. He notoriously watches hours upon hours of film and rarely takes practice snaps off, let alone game snaps. Look no further than 2014 when for better or worse, he was adamant about staying on the field when the Broncos had big leads.

It often shows up only in the greats and by comparison Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Jerry Rice and Derek Jeter come to mind. A will, no matter what accolades stack up and the money that accrues in the bank account, is what drives such athletes. Manning clearly has that same trait. Greats often need to be dragged off the playing field at times and this year Manning will work as hard as ever and has stated he is prepared to evolve in order to win. Whether it is a learning a new offense or trying to limit physical exhaustion over the season, he will surely prepare for whatever is best for the Broncos.

Lastly and most importantly for spectators, is the talent with which Manning plays. The days of zingers on deep out-routes and bullets up the seam maybe gone. What aren’t gone are pin-point accurate throws and the talent of memory and strategy between Manning’s ears. He owns an infamously and astonishingly great memory that has served him well over his career.

Earlier in the 2014 season he was reminiscing on some of his 500-plus touchdown passes and could remember play calls, defensive coverages and the recipients of the passes whether they were to Marvin Harrison or one-and-done pro players. That brain power, coupled with the right arm attached to his 6’5” frame is a pleasure to watch, something apparently many have already forgotten.

In his three seasons will Denver he has overcome a scary injury, fought through some nagging ones and in his most humbling moments still was among the league’s best. In 2014, His 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on his way to another AFC West title is considered a “down year”. That in itself should justify his greatness.

Whether you believe he should have taken a bigger pay cut, or you believe the team should have started the Brock Osweiler era now, or you are already an avid Manning fan here’s your reminder. Don’t be a selfish fan looking for an “all or nothing” season because you are demanding too much. Appreciate the past and the great moments already accrued but live in the now. Savor every “Omaha” call, every wobbly duck that hits Emmanuel Sanders in perfect stride down the sideline and every boring, humble handshake after he breaks more records. Drink it in simply because in sports, you are not guaranteed to see another Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning, especially in a Denver uniform.

Manning put it perfectly Wednesday when he agreed to a pay cut with the Broncos. He told the Denver Post’s Mike Klis just what every fan should remember this coming season.

“I’m tired of talking about the past and the future. I’m excited to talk about now.”

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