ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the midst of a season that could earn him his fifth NFL MVP Award, quarterback Peyton Manning has been named Sports Illustrated's 2013 Sportsman of the Year.
He joins the likes of Dean Smith, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan with that distinction.
Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Chris Stone talked with DenverBroncos.com in an exclusive interview about the publication's decision to honor the Broncos quarterback.
"To some degree, we're taking a measure of Peyton's entire career, dating back all the way to college," Stone said. "He's had three stops since college -- Knoxville, Indianapolis and Denver. What really strikes you beyond that consistently excellent performance is the way he's connected with all three of those communities in a really profound way."
"Obviously he's having an historical season -- that's obvious to anyone out there, even the casual sports fan," Stone continued. "He's only been (in Denver) for two years, but the imprint he's left not only on the team but the community is undeniable."
One recent moment in Manning's career stood out to the publication -- the quarterback's actions following the Broncos' double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season.
Manning stayed long after the playoff defeat, which ended the Broncos' season, to congratulate Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on the win. Lewis had announced that the playoff run -- which ultimately ended in his second Super Bowl ring -- would be he last.
"You don't want to make too much of a single gesture, but that was a huge gesture. It was a sincere gesture, obviously something that wasn't planned. For one, I don't think Peyton had planned on losing that football game," Stone said. "Given the circumstances, that's the most elementary definition of sportsmanship there is. After a crushing, unexpected loss -- I don't think anybody would doubt that -- his instinct was to go into the other locker room and congratulate another player who was winding towards the end of his career."
Sports Illustrated's Peter King announced Manning as the recipient of the annual honor at halftime of the Sunday Night Football game on NBC.
Manning becomes the fourth quarterback to earn the award since he joined the NFL in 1998. He joins Tom Brady (2005), Brett Favre (2007) and Drew Brees (2010) with that distinction. He is just the eighth NFL player overall to be named Sportsman of the Year.
King originally nominated Manning in an article titled "My Sportsman."
"I love this award," King wrote. "Since I began subscribing (age 12, 1969, "Namath Weeps"), I always looked forward to the annual Sportsman issue, because it advanced the ideals of sport. A great athlete or coach could be a good person too. Some better than others at the athletics, or at the person part, or both. But there had to be something inherently good about the winner, and I liked that. So over the years, if the managing editor at the time asked me for a nomination from pro football, I would give it thought and advance only the causes of those I thought were worthy."
As for why he believed Manning fit the traits necessary to earn the award, King explained as follows:
"He's 37, he's had his mid-football-life crisis and survived it well; he has a charitable side that stretches into the four states he has called home at various stages of his life (Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana, Colorado); and, despite his arm being maybe 85 percent of what it once was, he just might have the best year he has ever had," he wrote. "Manning has persevered. He has put another franchise on his shoulders, and he's winning, and he's still the best at what he does at a time when whole and healthier and rich athletes are getting on with their lives. He thinks he owes everything he's got as a professional to helping the Broncos win. It's idealistic, it's old-fashioned, it's admirable. And that package gets my 2013 Sportsman vote."
The first Sportsman of the Year was awarded to English distance runner Roger Bannister, who broke the four-minute-mile barrier in 1954.
In that inaugural issue, the editors set the award's guiding principle: "While the victory may have been his, it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather, it is for the quality of his effort and manner of his striving."
The Sportsman of the Year cover story on Manning was penned by SI Senior Writer Lee Jenkins.