Riding into retirement with another Super Bowl ring? Well, that's not even a thought for the Denver Broncos quarterback.
"If I can't produce, if I can't help the team, that's when I'll stop playing," Manning said Sunday. "If that's next year, maybe it is, but I certainly want to continue to keep playing."
The AFC champion Broncos arrived in New Jersey on Sunday night for the start of preparations for the big game next week against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium. Manning, at a news conference aboard the Cornucopia Majesty cruise ship docked outside the team hotel, said he has no plans beyond next Sunday's Super Bowl.
It's hard to blame him after a season in which he set NFL records with 55 touchdown passes and 5,447 yards while leading the league's top-ranked offense. Manning is trying to become the first starting QB to win Super Bowls with two teams, an accomplishment that seemed a bit of a long shot after he underwent two career-threatening neck surgeries two years ago.
"I still enjoy playing football," Manning said. "I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point coming off that surgery, and I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the important part of it. Everybody enjoys the games, and everybody's going to be excited to play in the Super Bowl.
"But I think when you still enjoy the preparation, I think you probably still ought to be doing that."
Manning is the favorite to win his fifth league MVP award, and is the indisputable face of this year's Super Bowl the first in which the Broncos have played since John Elway won the second of consecutive titles in 1999.
After that victory, 34-19 over the Atlanta Falcons, Elway retired from the game a champion. Manning has spoken to Elway, now his boss in the Broncos front office, about walking away from the game after winning a ring. He has also spoken to former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who did the same last year after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.
They talked about how great a feeling it is, being able to go out on top, but Manning noted that there is a major difference between their situations and his.
"In talking to Ray Lewis and in talking with John Elway, they couldn't play anymore," Manning said. "That was all they had to give, and they truly left it all out there. I certainly had a career change two years ago with my injury and changing teams, so I truly have been kind of on a one-year-at-a-time basis. So, I really have no plans beyond this game. I had no plans coming into this season beyond this year.
"I think that's the healthy way to approach your career at this stage."