It is always interesting to hear great players discuss who the toughest opponents they faced were, and that’s exactly what DeMarcus Ware did yesterday in an article for The Players Tribune, listing the five toughest players he ever faced.
Included on the list was, of course, former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Ware wound up joining Manning as the two both spent the final few years of their careers in Denver, but for years before that the two future Hall of Famers built up incredible resumes.
Ware recalled a story from his time with the Cowboys playing Manning’s Colts in 2006 (a loss that ended the Colts’ perfect season after nine straight wins) when he faked Manning out. Ware wrote that he never rushed the quarterback when he lined up in the slot - and he knew Manning knew that - so sure enough he lined up in the slot and still rushed Manning, getting a blind-side hit on him that forced a fumble. He concluded:
We didn’t recover the fumble, but we won the game, and I learned that to beat Peyton Manning, you have to beat him at his own game. It’s easier said than done, but you have to play the mental game with him. You gotta fake him out.
But that’s not the end of the story, as he wrote that years later when he, still with the Cowboys, was facing Manning’s Broncos in 2013. Facing a third-and-goal with just inches to go, Manning turned to hand the ball off to Knowshon Moreno. Ware was sure that Manning wouldn’t run the ball unless it was a QB sneak, so he rushed straight up the middle to hit the ballcarrier... only to find out that Manning had kept it on a surprise bootleg for a score. The funniest thing about it? Manning remembered when Ware got him all of those years earlier, so he told Ware that he had gotten the defensive end back. You should check out the full story, as Ware tells it, here. It’s a fun read.
All in all, Ware wrote this:
That was the thing about Peyton: He was always the smartest player on the field, but he was also the most competitive. He was a master of the chess game, but he also remembered that one time I had gotten him seven years earlier, and he wanted to get me back.
That’s why he’s one of the all-time greats.
That’s very high praise for Manning to be called one of the all-time greats and the smartest player on the field by a guy who also will wind up in the Hall of Fame one day. Ware also listed Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, Walter Jones, and Tom Brady along with Manning on the list of the five toughest players he faced.
In his prolific career (mainly with the Cowboys), Ware racked up 138.5 sacks and 35 forced fumbles while making nine Pro Bowls and being named a five-time first-team All-Pro. He currently ranks eighth all-time in career sacks. Yet he only registered one sack in three career games against Peyton Manning, who himself had an incredibly prolific career (mainly with the Colts).
Manning threw for 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns while making 14 Pro Bowls and being named a first-team All-Pro seven times, also winning five MVP awards and countless other awards. He is currently the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Both of these guys are legends in their own right, and I’m sure they’re filled with mutual respect for what the other achieved. They were able to team up at the end of their careers, but before that, DeMarcus Ware considered Peyton Manning one of the toughest players he ever faced. Simply more high praise for the legendary quarterback.