Peyton Manning was trying to pretend Thursday night was just another game. After his encouraging performance against the Chicago Bears, the four-time MVP let the public see how he really felt during his return to the field.
"I got an email from [brother-in-law Will Thompson] today that said, 'Hey, after that first snap, you ought to take a minute just to reflect about where you were at this point last year.'" Manning told Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports as Manning left for the team bus.
"Just the fact that I was able to be out there taking a snap in an NFL game ... anybody, if you asked ... it meant a lot. You'd almost have to talk to the Indy trainers, the guys that really saw me, that really know. Without getting too deep, you couldn't make any predictions. There's a lot of unknown to this injury."
One reason Manning connects with NFL fans is that he so obviously loves what he does. For big football fans -- no matter who you root for -- it was a cool moment to see him on the field again. It's a moment we almost take for granted. Manning doesn't.
"Four-minutes into a rat-a-tat-tat post-game interview, the former Colts mega-star paused and collected himself," Ian Rapoport of NFL.com wrote. "It was almost as if the new Broncos leader was tapped on the shoulder and reminded him, There was no guarantee you'd ever get back on the field. In his first playing time since a nerve issue in his neck robbed him of his 2011 season, resulted in two vertebrae being fused together, and made him one of the most sought-after free agents ever, Manning was hit by emotion all at once.
"I always have to take the time to say, 'I sure have come a long way in a year,'" Manning said. "'How much hard work I've put in. How much help I've gotten.'"
Manning told Silver he did take time to reflect after that first pass. And he made sure to remember it was only a moment early in his journey, not the destination.
"I keep having to fight this battle," Manning said. "I throw one good pass and everybody says, 'He's back,' and I'm kinda going, 'Hey, I'm on the way.'"