INDIANAPOLIS, IN—Maybe the award should be renamed Most Valuable Peyton.
Peyton Manning became the first player to win The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player honors four times.
Peyton Manning got 39½ votes compared to Drew Brees' 7½, Philip Rivers' two, and Brett Favre's one. Manning adds the 2009 honors to the awards he won in 2003, 2004 and 2008, breaking a tie with Brett Favre at three MVPs.
"It's been a different season," said Manning, who guided the Colts to a 14-0 record before they rested starters in the second half of two games and finished 14-2. "Like I've said all along, it's been a challenge, it's been a grind at times, but guys have stepped up and played well."
No one more so than Manning, who threw for 4,500 and 33 touchdowns and, perhaps most impressively, led the Colts to a record seven fourth-quarter comeback wins.
The 33-year-old Manning also has started every game in his career, 192 in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs. He is durable, dynamic, dependable and decisive.
In other words, most valuable.
"He's been such a highly accomplished performer year in and year out. Just when you think you've seen his best, he improves upon it," said Jim Caldwell, who replaced Tony Dungy as coach and benefited from the same kind of performances Manning gave Dungy. "This year is one of those in terms of when you look at his numbers and how he's been able to play consistently well over a long period of time. It's been remarkable.
"I think a lot of it has to do with his drive. He just has an innate sort of will to excel. He never gets bored with it. That, I think, is highly unusual."
So unique that Manning has joined the truly elite of team sports: Wayne Gretzky (9), Barry Bonds (7) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), the leaders for most valuable player awards in each of their sports.
Not surprisingly, Manning, the 2007 Super Bowl MVP when he won his only league championship, briefly reflects before looking ahead.
"To win 14 games this year, if you had told me we were going to 14 games at the beginning of the season, I might not have believed you," he said. "So, it has been rewarding from a team standpoint because of what we have done. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
The Colts play in the divisional round next week and have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Super Bowl is Feb. 7 in Miami, the same place they won it three years ago.
Manning lost his longtime favorite receiver, Marvin Harrison, this season. Harrison's replacement, Anthony Gonzalez, went down with a right knee injury in the opener.
Manning simply turned to his latest fave, Reggie Wayne, who had 100 catches for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns. And to Dallas Clark, who joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends with 100 receptions in a season when he grabbed exactly that many for 1,106 yards and 10 scores.
Plus, Austin Collie tied for the rookie lead in receptions with 60 and scored seven times. Pierre Garcon, nurtured in dozens of passing sessions with Manning, developed into a prime deep threat and averaged 16.3 yards on 47 catches, with four TDs.
"What he's been able to do this year with Pierre and Austin," linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said, "and obviously Dallas had a year that will go down in the record books, and I think it really says something when you can work young guys like that."
The other votes went to San Diego's Philip Rivers with two, and Minnesota's Brett Favre with one.