When the Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning on March 7, 2012, it was rightly called one of the biggest roster moves in NFL history. For a living legend like Manning, it was expected he would finish his career with the Colts. But a serious neck injury, combined with the number one pick in a draft with a once-in-a-generation prospect in Andrew Luck, led the Colts to part ways with the greatest player in their franchise history.
While that was shocking and rare, it wasn't unprecedented. Johnny Unitas finished his career with the Chargers, not with the Colts. Joe Montana finished his career with the Chiefs, not with the 49ers. Brett Favre finished his career with the Jets and Vikings, not with the Packers. In the same way, Peyton Manning will (almost certainly) finish his career with the Broncos, not with the Colts. Legendary quarterbacks who will always be associated with a franchise don't always finish their career with that same franchise. It's rare, but not unprecedented.
What is unprecedented, however, is what will happen this Sunday: that legend facing his former team in the playoffs. Unitas never did it. Montana never did it. Favre never did it. In fact, in NFL history no legendary quarterback has ever faced his former franchise (the one with which he became famous and will be always associated) in a playoff game. On Sunday, Peyton Manning will face the Colts.
ESPN Stats and Info had a stat on this:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Broncos’ Peyton Manning will be first QB to play at least 200 games with a team and then face that team (Colts) in playoffs (<a href="https://twitter.com/EliasSports">@EliasSports</a>)</p>— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) <a href="https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/551951497668222977">January 5, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Of course, the group of players to play at least 200 games with a franchise is limited, and the group of quarterbacks to do so is even more limited. But I think you get the idea: the situation that will happen Sunday has never happened before in NFL history.
Peyton Manning started 208 games with the Colts over 13 seasons, throwing for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns while completing 64.9% of his passes. He led the Colts to 11 playoff appearances and eight seasons with 12+ wins. He won four league MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP in helping the Colts win Super Bowl XLI. He will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in history and is the greatest player in franchise history.
Of course, on Sunday, he'll be going against the Colts - who also have a pretty dang good quarterback in Andrew Luck, who just this season broke one of Manning's franchise records (for most passing yards in a single season). It will be the third meeting between Manning's Broncos and his former team, but none have been this big. It's the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and it will make some history too.