Peyton Manning's demise as a serviceable NFL quarterback has been marked by deep sorrow and multiple frown emojis, depending on your age and personal taste. People think it's just so sad to see a noble warrior break down. They feel so bad for Manning's pride. They're embarrassed by his presumed embarrassment and unsure how to explain it to their children.
As it turns out, however, this kind of thing happens much more often than they might realize, as ESPN analyst Brian Burke has noted. If you go way back, all the way to 2010, you will find a similarly morose exit for another future Hall of Fame quarterback. Brett Favre was pummeled in his final season, forced in essence to walk away in Week 14 before one brief and final hurrah in Week 15.
Recent NFL history is littered, in fact, with the too-late retirements of iconic quarterbacks. The image was forever captured in a photograph of 38-year-old Y.A. Tittle, dazed and sitting on his knees, blood trickling down his bald head, in 1964. A four-interception game Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs was Manning's "Tittle Moment," one unfortunately shared by more than a half-dozen of his Hall of Fame -- or soon-to-be-enshrined -- contemporaries.
Final season: 2010
What changed: In many ways, Favre never recovered from the punishment he took in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. After throwing 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions that season, he returned noticeably less mobile in 2010 because of a chronic ankle injury. Favre threw seven interceptions in his first four games, matching his total for the entire 2009 season. Immobile in the pocket, he suffered shoulder, chest and foot injuries that eventually snapped his streak of consecutive games played. A concussion ended his career.
Final season: 2000
What changed: Aikman's body couldn't get him through the season. He needed multiple epidural shots to relieve back pain, and the second of two concussions ended his career in Week 12. His performance dipped noticeably when he was on the field, leading to a passer rating that dropped from 81.1 in 1999 to 64.3. He doubled his interception percentage, throwing one on 5.3 percent of his passes a year after limiting them to 2.7 percent. His 14 interceptions in just 262 attempts was his highest total in eight years, and his average of 148.4 yards per game was by far the lowest of his career.
Final season: 1996
What changed: Kelly threw 19 interceptions in 379 attempts, an interception rate of 5.0 percent that was nearly double that of his 1995 season. His passer rating dropped from 81.1 to 73.2, the lowest of his career. He took 37 sacks, the most since his rookie season despite playing only 13 games, and threw for only 2,810 yards -- the second-lowest total of his career. Like Favre and Aikman, he suffered a concussion on his final play.
Final season: 1987
What changed: Fouts actually spent his final two seasons playing far below his career expectations. He threw more interceptions than touchdown passes in both seasons, the first time that had happened since 1976, and his average of 241.2 yards per game qualified as his lowest since before the 1978 season. The Chargers were 8-14 in his 22 starts over that stretch, and he finally retired at the age of 36.
Final season: 1977
What changed: Namath stumbled through his final three seasons with the New York Jets, throwing 66 interceptions over 39 games. The Jets lost 17 of his final 21 starts, and he averaged a career-low 99.1 yards per game in 1976. Still, at age 34, Namath tried to jump-start his career with the Los Angeles Rams. Years of knee injuries and other ailments brought his career to a close after just four games.
Final season: 1973
What changed: At the age of 40, Unitas decided to continue playing even after the Baltimore Colts sent him to the San Diego Chargers. It was a lost year. He played in only five games, throwing seven interceptions and just three touchdown passes on a team that was emphasizing the run, and completed a career-low 44.7 percent of his passes. (His previous low, even in an era of lesser efficiency, was 51.7.) Ultimately, he gave way to Fouts, who was a rookie at the time.
Final season: 1964
What changed: Tittle was the NFL's MVP in 1963 and had led the New York Giants to the NFL Championship Game in three consecutive years. But age caught up in a hurry, as symbolized in his dazed expression in that iconic photograph, taken after an interception had been returned for a touchdown. In that final season, he threw 10 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions, more than doubling his interception rate from the previous season. The Giants were 1-8-2 in his starts.