JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Peyton Manning arrived in the Greater Big Apple on Sunday for the chance to pad his legacy in Super Bowl XLVIII. One of his first pieces of business — and he looked the part, with his conservative gray suit accented by blue — was to set the record straight about what he does not envision this big game will be.
Manning did not come to town to ride off into the sunset.
Or to get swept away by a blizzard, either.
He does not see this as a grand farewell.
In a nice way, the Denver Broncos star suggested saving that narrative for another time.
"I know there have been a number of players who have walked away as champions," Manning said aboard the Cornucopia Majesty, a cruise ship that the Broncos will use for press conferences this week.
"I'm sure that's a great feeling for those people. John Elway. Ray Lewis did it last year. Michael Strahan. In talking to Ray Lewis and talking to John Elway, they couldn't play anymore. That was all they had to give. They truly left it all out there."
Manning had four surgical neck procedures, missed a season, had to find a new team — and just produced the greatest season by a quarterback in NFL history.
It took so much to get back here and he's hot. And he still loves getting into Caveman mode, relentlessly breaking down the videotape and turning over every stone as part of the preparation.
This is not the time to give that up. This is not some broken down has-been hanging on.
Said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, "You'd think after a season like this, he'd want to play 10 more years."
Yet people wonder. Manning is 37. He has nothing to prove, perhaps, beyond whether he can rack up more championships and MVP trophies to go with his place among the all-time greats.
Lewis understands. A year ago, he was a lot like Manning, the biggest name on the biggest stage in sports. Unlike Manning, though, Lewis knew that he was on his last legs as an iconic linebacker as the Baltimore Ravens hit New Orleans.
That realization, nor leaving with a Super Bowl victory, didn't make it any easier for Lewis.
"Even when you know that it's it, you really don't want to let it go," Lewis told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday night.
Lewis can see both sides of it, when it comes to Manning.
"If he can keep playing, he should play," Lewis said. "But there's no shame in going out on top."
Lewis said that he has talked about retirement with Manning on multiple occasions over the past year or so, most strikingly during an extended conversation that went for roughly a half hour after the quarterback came over to see Lewis in the locker room after the Ravens upset the Broncos in the AFC divisional playoffs last January.
He indeed remembers telling Manning that he pretty much had two games left on his last ride. And as Manning discussed it on Sunday, he dutifully took mental notes about the internal process.
Yet Lewis also recognizes a key difference.
"At my position, linebacker, it is so physically punishing," Lewis said. "There are only so many hits that your body can absorb. At quarterback, you're at a position where you have a better chance of taking fewer hits."
If Manning can guide his Broncos past the Seattle Seahawks in the classic matchup pitting the NFL's best offense vs. its best defense, he will match Lewis, Elway and Strahan with two Super Bowl victories.
In any event, it's so notable that if Manning wins on Sunday, his case would include the distinction of becoming the first quarterback ever to win two Super Bowls with two different franchises.
He's also healthy, with much of the strength in his arm that was sapped by the nerve issues attached to his neck, restored well enough to pass for 55 TDs and 5,477 yards during the regular season.
"I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point," Manning said, referring to the post-surgery stage of his life.
At this point, that's making the decision of whether it's time to contemplate retirement so much easier — assuming that he escapes Sunday's tilt in one piece.
But the other key component is the fire for his pressure-packed job.
"As soon as I stop enjoying it, when I can't produce, if I can't help the team, that's when I'll stop playing," Manning said. "If that's next year, maybe it is, but I certainly want to continue to keep playing."
If Manning wins on Sunday and doesn't ride off into the sunset amid a shower of confetti, Lewis chuckles when imagining the quarterback's mindset.
"If he came back next year after winning it all, what's he going to do?" Lewis said. "He's going to try to win it again."
One way or another, there's so much to be said for going out on your own terms.