Unhappy endings

There are not many happy stories to tell about 39-year-old quarterbacks in the NFL. Only four — Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie — have ever started even 10 games in a season. Only one of those, Favre in 2009, has led a team to the playoffs. None, obviously, won a Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning turns 39 this month, and he just announced that he’s coming back for one more year. Every athlete should write his or her own ending, but it’s hard to see how this ends well. Manning returns to Denver with a giant paycut, a new coach, and a different offensive system. He returns after a dismal ending to last season. In his last five games, he threw six interceptions and his Broncos looked all but helpless at home against Indianapolis in the playoffs.

It has been said that great athletes die two deaths, the first when they retire from their sport. That’s why it is so hard to leave. Manning seems to want one more championship run … there’s a sense that Manning feels his amazing career is incomplete because his teams have won just one Super Bowl.  That’s a familiar story. Tony Gonzalez tried this just a couple of years ago. That final Super Bowl chase, like most, ended  in disappointment.

Then, most great careers ends in disappointment. Derek Jeter ended as a .250 hitter, Wayne Gretzky scored just nine goals for a lousy Rangers team, Michael Jordan shot fadeaway jumpers in a Washington Wizards jersey. Peyton Manning might find a better ending, but he probably won’t. There’s a reason they call it the bitter end.

— Joe Posnanski