ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --After leading the Broncos to a 24-17 win in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, quarterback Peyton Manning was asked whether his future is weighing on his mind.
"It's really not," he said. "What's weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth. That's priority number one."
The response drew a smile from the quarterback and laughter from the gathered media. But the point was serious -- Manning is purely focused on the present.
As he and the Broncos prepare to take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game this Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Manning said the team is bringing a "laser focus" into its practices and meetings.
For that reason alone, he said it's not hard to "block out" thoughts about how much longer he'll play the game.
"As a matter of fact, I think it's probably even easier just to hone on in on what's taking place right now," he said. "I really felt that that has been my approach since the beginning of last season. Just when you go through a significant injury and a major career change, you truly do go one year at a time and you don't look past what's going on now because you are not sure what's going to happen. Tomorrow is not promised. I think it's a healthy approach for an older player to go all in for 2013 regular season, 2014 postseason.
Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was asked Thursday whether or not he's spoken with Manning about how much longer he intends to play.
Last week, Manning said that "certainly the light is at the end of the tunnel" in his career, in the context that he's enjoying these playoffs even more than he has in the past.
"When I've heard him say that, it's more the playoffs, being able to appreciate his playoff appearances, where he is right now, knowing that whether it's a year, two or three years down the line, four years down the line, that the sun — it's starting to set," Elway said. "But to me, it's more of that he's looking at, you know, you get in the playoffs — like you are right now — and this is a time to enjoy it, because these are the times you're going to really reflect back and say, 'It made it all worthwhile.' My comments from him are that since we made the playoffs, is when he started seeing the sunset. But we'll sit down after the season and find out where he is and what his thinking is. But to be where we are right now and talk to him about the future, I don't think is productive right now."
Elway said he recalled that when he made the choice to retire after his second Super Bowl title, it wasn't just to "ride off into the sunset," as many have written. He pointed out that he missed four games in his final season as a Bronco, and he predicted that he wouldn't have been able to play at the level at which he was accustomed if he decided to stick around.
"Having been a football player before, when you leave this game, you want to leave it on your last leg, and try not to leave anything on the table," Elway said. "So, anybody that's a competitor, that's kind of the way they want to leave the game. I was just fortunate to be able to be on two great football teams and be able to win world championships when my last leg broke."
So is Manning still enjoying the game? His production this season and sharp focus on the next game seems to point to that.
"I can't imagine him not — throwing 55 touchdown passes and 5,400 yards," Elway smiled. "I guarantee you if I was in his shoes, I would have enjoyed it. I'm sure he is still enjoying it, and he's on a good football team, which also late in your career, is crucial."