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Peyton Manning, other NFL Sports Illustrated Sportsmen through the years

Peyton Manning has earned SI's highest honor. Peyton Manning has earned SI's highest honor. (John W. McDonough for SI)

It came as little surprise that Peyton Manning was named Sports Illustrated's 2013 Sportsman of the Year. Two years after neck surgery cost him an entire season, Manning is on pace for one of the greatest seasons ever by a quarterback. Manning’s 47 touchdown passes during the Broncos’ 11–3 start puts him four TDs away from breaking Tom Brady’s record for most touchdowns thrown in a season, and the Broncos lead the league in total offense (453.4 ypg), passing (333.6 ypg), receiving (344.4 ypg) and points scored (535).

"Obviously he's having an historical season -- that's obvious to anyone out there, even the casual sports fan," Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Chris Stone told DenverBroncos.com. "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."

The Sportsman award debuted in 1954, and in describing the feats of the first Sportsman, Roger Bannister, the editors introduced 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.”

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“At first, when I knew we were considering Manning, I thought: good choice. Lifetime-achievement-award choice,” says TheMMQB.com editor in chief Peter King. “But if you isolate this year, you’re looking at a player two years removed from four neck procedures that would have prompted many 35-year-old legends to choose retirement. He has his Super Bowl. He has his MVPs. Now he’s on the verge of breaking the most important single-season quarterback records [touchdown passes and passing yards] in the 94-year history of the game. … And he’s got his team set to win the top seed in the AFC. Who plays his best—wounded, with so many great young guns chasing him—at 37?”

Manning isn't the first NFL luminary to earn SI's highest honor. Find all the NFL Sportsmen below.

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