I have always been passionate about sports. As a kid I don't think I completely understood the specifics of the game and I know I wasn't as emotionally invested as I am now. As a high school student I had just begun to learn about fantasy football but the true outlet for my passion was my expansive sports cards collection. I chased every Cowboys, Mavericks, and Rangers single I could find and spent a fair share of my allowance on packs of Upper Deck, Topps, and Leaf. Still it wasn't until 1998 that I began looking at teams other than those in Dallas, thanks to the 1998 Score Football set. The sports collecting world erupted in '98 thanks largely in part to a rookie receiver by the name of Randy Moss. Everyone wanted a Moss rookie card and the easiest way to snag one was the inexpensive Score set. As I bought pack after pack searching for a Moss, I became familiar with the other rookies in the set. Notable names included Fred Taylor, Charles Woodson, Ryan Leaf, and another quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning. I ended up with several Moss rookies but only one Manning. As Moss continued to lead the football frenzy, I began following Peyton instead. (I think the shift came shortly after Moss torched my beloved Cowboys on Thanksgiving day) After a rough rookie season, Manning "arrived" in 1999 with his first 4,000-yard season. It was after this season that I declared to anyone that would listen that Peyton Manning would be the greatest quarterback ever, if he managed to stay healthy.
Fast forward more years than I would like to admit and Manning has proved me partially correct. He's a four-time MVP, made 11 Pro Bowls, and is a Super Bowl Champion and MVP. However at long last, after 208 consecutive starts, Manning's health moving forward is a question mark. As the world discovered yesterday, Manning has undergone his third neck surgery in less than two years. After two operations for a bulging disc in his neck, Manning has undergone a one-level cervical neck fusion and is expected to miss at least two to three months.
The surgery involves an incision made in the front of the neck to allow the surgeon access to the cervical portion of the spine. By entering through the front of the neck, the surgeon is given better access to the injured area and the effected athlete feels less discomfort following the procedure. The troublesome disc and its fragments are removed and a bone graft, often taken from the hip, is inserted in their place. The area is fortified with surgical plating that will allow the two vertebrate above and below the area to grow or "fuse" together.
While no timeline has been set for the quarterback, multiple NFL players have played following the surgery including former Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott. The surgery is not a career-threatening procedure but it does come with risk, most notably to the nerves in the area. As I noted in my recent injury analysis column, nerves take a significant amount of time to heal. The nerves that enervate the muscles at the effected nerve root must be completely healed or the athlete will see a plateau in their strength. Manning will work closely with his doctors and rehab team to improve his range of motion and strength while maintaining his conditioning levels. Modalities and other therapy will ensure his body becomes the best possible environment for healing to occur.
There is an outside chance Manning plays later this season, but by then the standings (both in the real world and fantasy world) may be decided. I wouldn't be shocked to see Manning shifts his focus to 2012 and sit for the entire season. However it seems very reasonable to expect the Colts to have their franchise player back on the field to start next season.
I recently found my old box of cards, stashed away in my closet behind medical textbooks. As I look at my set of 98 Score Football I'm hopeful that the surgery is a success and that Manning will be able to continue his quest toward NFL immorality. Years after a younger, longer-haired version of me did, I'm here to again declare that Peyton Manning will be the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL.
If, he can stay healthy.