Most of us have seen it, not just the photo, but the image of Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Y.A. Tittle, bloodied and broken, hunched over on his knees in the end zone in the last appearance of his career. It is an indelible snapshot burned into our brains of mortality and sports at their highest level. He was 38.
Also freshly 38, and just off arguably the most successful season of his 15-year professional playing career, is quarterback Peyton Manning. The league’s first five-time MVP led the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl in a year that included breaking records in both regular-season passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns passes (55). Manning, of course, sat out the entire 2011 season after four procedures on his neck that included a fusion surgery and another to repair a bulging disk.