What was the most impressive aspect of Peyton Manning's 2013 season?
Was it the 55 touchdowns? The 5,477 passing yards? The unprecedented fifth MVP award? The third trip to the Super Bowl?
Perhaps the most amazing achievement was the timing of it all. Manning was the greatest quarterback on the planet at 37 years old in his 16th (16th!) NFL season. Manning mastered football's most vital position, an accomplishment that earned him the top spot on NFL Network's The Top 100 Players of 2014 countdown.
Manning finished ahead of Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who landed in the top three for the third consecutive year. Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson (last year's No. 1) and LeSean McCoy rounded out the top five.
"I feel like I'm in the second chapter of my football career, obviously changing teams, changing offensive systems, coaches, different coordinators, different receivers I'm throwing against -- it's been a major adjustment," Manning told NFL Network's Lindsay Rhodes. "I thought I was better in 2013 certainly than I was in 2012. I certainly felt more comfortable in the Broncos' offense last year compared to my first year, hopefully can be even more comfortable, can be more on the same page with our receivers this year."
No player in the NFL garners universal respect like Manning. There's a reason we often hear young defensive backs say they want their first interception to come against Manning. It's the same reason rookie pass-rushers pine to put No. 18 on his back for their first sack.
Manning has reached the "Living Legend" stage of his career, but, unlike other players who reach that rarified air, he continues to be a superstar talent in the late stages of his career. Brady, Manning's forever rival, can relate. You might have to go back to Michael Jordan in his final Bulls year to find another appropriate parallel.
This is the first time Manning has landed at No. 1 on the Top 100 since the NFL Network debuted the oft-divisive countdown in 2011. He finished No. 2 that year and again took the runner-up spot in 2013. He came in at No. 50 in 2012, which is pretty damn impressive when you remember he didn't play a snap the previous season while recovering from career-threatening neck surgery.
There's that respect again, garnered over years of excellence. Manning entered the league as a No. 1 overall pick when Andrew Luck -- his successor in Indianapolis -- was eight years old. Manning's uncanny ability to adjust his game as his arm strength has waned isn't lost on the players tasked with studying game tape for a living.
The players didn't always get things right in the Top 100 -- this may be a grand understatement -- but putting Manning on top displayed both logic and proper reverence. Hooray for common sense.