The "breaking news" that Peyton Manning will not suit up as a starting quarterback for the first time in his NFL career comes as little surprise after all the bad news we've seen through the last couple of weeks — clearly, the Colts are trying to get a handle on a very complex neck injury that is not recovering as well as anyone would like. Manning has been ruled as "out" for the season opener against the Houston Texans, and now, the questions turn to Manning's future … both short-term and long-term.
"To say I am disappointed in not being able to play is an understatement," Manning said in a statement. "The best part about football is being out there on the field playing with my teammates. It will be tough not to be out there playing for the organization and our fans. I simply am not healthy enough to play, and I am doing everything I can to get my health back. The team will do fine without me, and I know for sure that I will miss them much more than they will miss me."
From 1981 through 1993, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long ripped it up for the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders about as well as it can ever be done, and as he told me in a Wednesday morning interview (thanks to Allstate and the Hometown Hall of Famers program for that; we'll have the full transcript up very soon), neck injuries are a different breed.
Long knows that first-hand. "I had a procedure done on my neck a couple of years ago [based on things that happened while he was playing], and it wasn't easy," he revealed.
"When the lights go out at night, and an athlete's staring at the ceiling, one thing that is probably their biggest fear is the neck," Long said. "For a number of reasons, and some of them are obvious. When you start to get into multiple neck procedures, you're getting into nerve damage, and you're getting into the spinal column. It's a scary proposition, and it's certainly not a good thing.
"Will he be back this year? Hopefully, he is. But my point is this — when you're into multiple neck issues, it doesn't get better."
I then asked Long if he felt that the best thing to do for Manning would be to take the long view and maybe look to sit him out for an entire season.
"Well, I don't know where he is, and only Peyton knows that. And it sounds like the medical staff was trying to determine why the process was going slower than they had anticipated. I think it's important that Peyton does what's best for Peyton."
Because as Long now knows, it's about the life beyond football — living as a husband, father and friend.
"Well, my perspective at age 51 is one hell of a lot different that it was at age 26 or 29 or 30," he said with a laugh.
And beyond the challenges of the Texans game, or the rest of this season, or the remainder of his career, the real opponent Peyton Manning is facing now is the same one that every great athlete faces — time. It's a waiting game, but as Long said, there are concerns far beyond football that now come into the equation.
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