SAN FRANCISCO — What is it about fading NFL quarterbacks and Southern California?
Could Denver’s Peyton Manning resurrect a role once played by Johnny Unitas in San Diego (1973) and Joe Namath (1977) in Los Angeles?
There’s chatter during Super Bowl week, that just maybe, Manning could exit Denver stage south and land in Tinseltown.
Anyone for Manning in the L.A. Coliseum to lead the quarterback-deficient Rams in next season’s grand return?
Manning, of course, won’t bite on the topic as he readies for Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 showdown with the Carolina Panthers.
But just maybe he can purr a certain line, much like Norma Desmond, in “Sunset Boulevard.” Once a movie star, Desmond had to come to grips that her game had slipped.
Or had it?
“I am big,” she said with authority. “It’s the pictures that got small.”
What’s known is the sand is running low in Manning’s hour glass. Microphones caught Manning telling New England coach Bill Belichick this could be his last rodeo after recently beating the Patriots in reaching his fourth Super Bowl.
Many speculate Manning will take his final bow — win or lose — following Sunday’s game to cap his 18th season.
Then again, many thought Unitas would ever head west and slow Dan Fouts’ emergence.
Then again, many though Namath wouldn’t flee the Jets and play off Broadway.
But they did, and with most thinking Manning’s days in Denver are down to single figures, maybe his next close-up comes near Hollywood.
Those decisions are for the offseason. But during media days where any angle is fair game, it makes for good fodder.
Manning, 39, is good, but no longer great. One doesn’t win five NFL MVP awards and set every significant passing mark without being blessed with incredible skills.
Which makes Sunday’s outing, and what will be asked of Manning, all the more stunning.
Manning, a game-manager instead of a game-changer?
It has come to that at his age, as neck surgeries and a bad left foot took their toll on Peyton’s pace.
He no longer stretches the field with long-distance heaves. His cadence which includes “Omaha” doesn’t make defensive backs give ground.
If helping to upset the Panthers, it will be through Manning’s noggin’ and not his celebrated right arm.
Manning needs not to be super, but under control.
“Control is your word; I don’t know if I’d use that word,” said Manning, who threw a career-low nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions this season. “I think it’s your job to have to prepare, to have an appreciation and respect for the cerebral part of the game, try to find some type of an edge, and for me, I’ve always tried to find a cerebral part of the game.”
The smart money leans toward Manning riding off into the sunset. Then again, we think of “Sunset Boulevard” and other aging athletes — hello, Kobe Bryant — that don’t know when to say, “no mas.”
“Like I have said all week long and really the past couple weeks I am trying to focus on the task at hand and focus on what is on our plate this week and not get too far ahead,” Manning said on Wednesday. “I had some conversations with (Denver GM) John (Elway) when I first signed here about playing quarterback at the age of 35-plus. I haven’t had those type of conversations with him recently about that. I am excited to be in this game and have this opportunity and I am going to keep my focus just on that.”
Countless cameras will zero in on No. 18 on Sunday. There’s no guarantee Manning will fill those lenses for the final time as a player.
Often an athlete’s mind doesn’t connect with what his body is telling him.
“You have to be a student of the game and then physically you have to keep yourself in top shape to try to stay healthy,” Manning said. “Try to keep improving and I have really worked on both of those things throughout all the years that I have played.”
Will he play after Sunday’s confetti settles? Stay tuned.
“I feel pretty good as we speak,” he said. “And I am fortunate for that.”
+ Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jparis_sports.