When his career is finally finished, Peyton Manning may look upon the horrible year that 2011 was for him and feel thankful for it. Right now he is busy trying to prepare with his new Denver Broncos teammates for their September 9 opening game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some day he may realize that his neck injury, subsequent surgeries, and release from the Indianapolis Colts ultimately were a gift to him. He may also realize that the NFL lockout, happening when it did, was perfect timing for everything to work out in the end.
There is an excellent article out in this weekend's New York Times that details just how bad things were for Peyton Manning in 2011. How he came to Colorado because his good friend, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, brought him in to the Coors Field training facilities. The lockout prevented him from having any contact at all with his usual trainers and medical staff associated with the Colts. He needed somewhere to hide while he tried to work because things were very, very bad.
It was March 12, 2011 when the NFL locked out the players and Manning was cut off from the people who knew his body the best. We know by May he had to undergo a partial discectomy (removing part of a bulging disc in his neck) to attempt to relieve symptoms from a pinched nerve that was affecting the motor skills and strength in his throwing arm. The New York times article details a throwing session he had in June (a month or so after this surgery) with Helton in which Manning could not even really throw the football; his grip and his triceps were still incredibly weak from nerve damage.
Manning clearly didn't make enough progress with Rockies staff and on his own before he finally was able to see his Colts trainers and medical staff when the lockout ended in late July. For a month he tried working out with the team, throwing passes to his teammates, and trying to convince everyone he was going to be ready to play Week 1. The team clearly felt different and realized how serious Manning's nerve damage and neck condition really was. When an MRI showed them what they feared, they pushed him into surgery in early September. Manning underwent a procedure that removed the entire damaged disc, cleaned out any bone spurs, and then had a small plate placed to start a bone fusion process that would hold him out of action for the rest of the 2011 season.
What if the NFL lockout hadn't happened? What if the Colts doctors, realizing how bad Manning's situation had become by March or April, pushed Manning into the fusion surgery earlier when they realized he had severe nerve damage in his throwing arm? It's quite possible that they would have. Who knows how much in denial Manning truly was about his own condition? Had Manning had the surgery then, he could easily have been back playing in the first month of the season. The biggest issue following Manning's fusion surgery was not the bone healing and protecting him. Rather, it was always whether or not his arm strength would ever return to the point where he could compete as a NFL quarterback again.
Without the lockout, the fusion happens sooner, Manning's recovery isn't nearly as prolonged, but the Colts still may have drafted Andrew Luck. However, Luck, instead of starting this year, sits the bench for the next two years or more behind a Peyton Manning still very much in great form. That would have been the worst thing possible for Manning's career, in my opinion. Based upon how bad the Colts' team actually was without Manning, I doubt that they ever would have won a Super Bowl with him playing at that point. They needed the complete gutting of the organization that was done when that team imploded in 2011.
Manning needed a fresh start with another team that had a great deal more promise. I wouldn't have said that about the Broncos in 2010. My feeling about the team in 2011 was that they had a defense that was being rebuilt with some quality young guys, and that there was some great young talent on offense. All they needed was a quality passing quarterback to take them to a higher level. All of a sudden, Peyton Manning is a Bronco. It's a match made by the 2011 NFL lockout, and Broncos fans should be eternally grateful for that fact.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A football fanatic, she began following the Denver Broncos upon moving to Colorado in 2001.
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