But it was Manning’s older brother Cooper who put his neck injury in the proper context and cured him of any self-pity. Cooper had been an athlete equal to anyone in the family, an all-state wide receiver with a scholarship to Ole Miss, when he began experiencing numbness and atrophy in his right bicep. The Mannings flew to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where tests showed dangerous degeneration in his spine. He underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on his spinal cord, and complications set in. After weeks in a wheelchair, he had to walk with a cane. All of which Manning had witnessed up close, even as his own development was climaxing.

“I’ve never taken it for granted, ever since Cooper’s career was taken from him just like that,” Manning says. “So I always had it in perspective, and I didn’t need a year off to remind me how lucky I was to play.”

He and Cooper talked, comparing their conditions — but in truth, Manning realized, there was no comparison. He had gotten a career, and Cooper hadn’t. “Maybe this was my not-picture-perfect-neck catching up with me finally,” Manning says. “I just thought, wow, I got almost 20 years out of this neck. Boy, I’m grateful for the time I’ve had.”

Sally Jenkins, in the Washington Post, on the Denver Broncos quarterback. Read more on the Super Bowl in the Longreads Archive.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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