Although there is still time, it is now dwindling for Peyton Manning, one of the most praised quarterbacks ever to win one championship, pro or college.

The greatest athlete-as-pitchman ever, Manning could sell happy-face stickers to sullen Bill Belichick. The Denver quarterback already has a mostly adulatory media singing his praises. It would have been quite a story had Manning, after four operations on his neck and a year off, led the Broncos to a Super Bowl title this year.

Unfortunately, Manning, who will be 37 in March, played in last weekend's double-overtime loss to underdog Baltimore like another old quarterback, Brett Favre, in his last real hurrah at the age of 40. With talented players around him on all sides with the Minnesota Vikings, late in the fourth quarter of a tie game, on the edge of field goal territory in the Superdome, where no elements would affect the kick, Favre scrambled to his right, threw across his body to the middle of the field, and the resulting interception let the New Orleans Saints escape into overtime.

The Saints won the game with an agonizing drive on the only possession of the extra period that resulted in a long field goal, a development perceived as so unfair to the visiting Vikings that the OT rules were changed in the off-season. That debate somewhat clouded the memory of the last playoff pass Favre threw, of the last attempt of the old gunslinger to defy age and pain with his powerful arm.