JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Peyton Manning has seen just about everything in 16 largely record-breaking NFL seasons.
Now he's heard everything.
Richard Sherman, the self-proclaimed best cornerback in football, accused Manning of throwing “ducks,” which are passes that flutter and hang in the air and make film observers go “quack.”
“I believe it to be true as well,” Manning said with more than a hint of sarcasm at the Denver Broncos media availability Thursday. “They say he's a smart player. I think that's a real reach with what he is saying there. I do throw 'ducks.' I've thrown a lot of yards and touchdowns 'ducks.' I am actually quite proud of it.”
Criticizing a Pro Bowl quarterback publicly is a sacrilege. Subtracting style points from the performance of a guy who set the NFL regular-season record with 55 touchdowns at age 37 and has thrown four more in the playoffs is harsh. He might as well have accused Manning of having dangerously low levels of testosterone.
It's also an issue the duo may debate on the field when the Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Sherman made the assessment weeks ago in a guest column and says he still feels that way. To be fair, who among us hasn't cringed at some of Manning's throws?
“That's exactly what I said,” Sherman said. “That's what I said.”
Sherman tried to explain the science of the duck throws. The way Sherman sees it Manning doesn't catch the shotgun snaps by the laces enough, and the unorthodox grip makes the throws less than artistic.
“But he throws an accurate ball,” Sherman said. “He delivers it on time and accurately.”
Sherman went out of his way to praise Manning while breaking down the title game matchup, saying the man who throws ducks is “the best quarterback in maybe NFL history.” Think Manning is OK with “maybe?”
“It's going to be a tremendous challenge for both sides and I think that's what makes the game so big,” Sherman said. “That's what makes the game so fun. It's going to be great for the fans, great for the NFL because you do have the best teams and some of the best players in the world going after each other. At the end of the day, somebody has to win, somebody has to lose.”
What Sherman has no clue about is how tough Manning really is. Only Brett Favre (321) has played in more consecutive games than Manning, who stopped at 227 to undergo neck surgery.
Just the mention of neck gets the complete attention of the Mannings. Cooper Manning, the oldest of the Manning brothers, had to give up football or risk paralysis due to a congenital condition.
Peyton Manning said he and younger brother Eli, who were in high school and sixth grade, were tested for the same condition.
“They said our necks weren't picture perfect and didn't look ideal,” Peyton Manning said. “But they're stable enough to keep playing football.”
The neck surgery left Manning so weak he couldn't even throw ducks. Eli, quarterback of the New York Giants, told the NFL Network he was afraid to share his feelings.
“I was pretty much convinced he was done,” Eli Manning said. “There was no way he could come back and play football.”
It took three more neck surgeries and almost endless rehab before Peyton proved his doubters wrong.
If Sherman had studied all of this the way he prepares for games he might have avoided the ducks critique altogether. He's in an indefensible situation as Peyton Manning passed for 5,477 yards this season. He almost certainly has unlocked the inner fury of the Mannings.
Manning was asked to list the top three quarterbacks on his all-time list. The only caveat is they couldn't be his father or his brother.
“Me and my buddies don't discuss that,” Manning said to a chorus of laughter before taking the question on. “But I don't have a list. I think I could describe the perfect quarterback. Take a little piece of everybody. Take John Elway's arm, Dan Marino's release, maybe Troy Aikman's drop-back, Brett Favre's scrambling ability, Joe Montana's two-minute poise and, naturally, my speed in there ... ”
Timing is everything for a quarterback, and 16 NFL seasons have made Manning almost perfect in that department, whether on the field or on the podium. It takes a special quarterback to last so long in a league despite rules changes protecting quarterbacks more than in previous eras but no protection from social media attacks. Peyton Manning isn't a fan of cell phones. During one answer he intimated he prefers the days when there were no camera phones.
Respectful, appreciative and grateful ... that's Peyton Manning. And it's helped to bounce his feelings off another icon who for all practical purposes is his big brother in Denver.
“Anytime, as John Elway once said,” Manning said of the Broncos' president, “you might be kind of in the conversation of someone talking about some of their favorite quarterbacks, that's a nice compliment in itself.”