Much like Manning, Joe Montana was 35 when he suffered a serious injury.

With Peyton Manning officially joining the Broncos during a press conference this afternoon, today is a historic day for the NFL.

I don’t feel like I’m being overly dramatic with that statement, although the quest to make you click and read the words and letters I put together has made me stoop to far lower lows.

We may never see a quarterback of Manning’s caliber on the free agent market again. But when we witness history, a strange phenomenon occurs in which we lose sight of the present.

Amid the euphoria around the Interwebs and elsewhere yesterday two simple, common-knowledge facts were overlooked as we attempted to project Manning’s production in Denver, and how far he can take a team that was pushed by the hand of a superior overlord last year, and a unique offense.

Manning is old, and he’s still recovering from four neck surgeries. We all know this, mostly because it’s been written or said in every article, blog post, newscast, or Morse code communication that’s contained Manning’s name for at least the past year. Yet still as we discuss his future in the days and weeks ahead, the new car smell of Manning with the Broncos is intoxicating.

Reality sucks, and it’s a fun vacuum that kills all of our hopes and dreams. We’re not saying that Manning can’t be effective, or making any definitive statements about his ability to return to his elite form. But a little bit of perspective is key here as we move on from the excitement of Manning signing, to mini-camp workouts, training camp, and finally the 2012 season.

To gauge Manning’s potential numbers, theScore.com’s intern Devang Desai sifted through the digitally dusty stats at Pro Football Reference and looked back on the production of quarterbacks similar to Manning in physical stature during their age 35 and 36 seasons.

We start with the 35 year olds. The two exceptions are Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas, whose age 34 seasons were used because, like Manning, they sat out all or most of their age 35 season with injuries.

Production at age 35

Player Completion % Yards TD INT Rating TD +% INT +%
Dan Fouts (35) 12 GS 58.6 3740 16 22 71.4 95 85
Matt Hasselbeck (35) 14 GS 59.9 3001 12 17 73.2 82 88
Jim Plunkett (35) 9 GS 58.2 2035 14 15 77 114 81
Phil Simms (35) 15 GS 56.3 3061 14 14 77.6 93 104
Jim Kelly (35) 15 GS 55.7 3130 22 15 81.1 111 106
Warren Moon (35) 61.7 4690 23 21 81.7 96 106
Johnny Unitas (34)* 14 GS 58.5 3482 20 16 83.6 97 117
John Elway (35) 58.3 3970 26 14 86.4 111 110
Roger Staubach (35) 14 GS 58.2 2620 18 9 87 110 130
Dan Marino (35) 13 GS 64.2 2795 17 9 87.8 108 112
Kurt Warner (35) 5 GS 64.3 1377 6 5 89.3 95 102
Joe Montana (34)* 15 GS 61.7 3944 26 16 89.9 112 108
Brett Favre (35) 64.1 4088 30 17 92.4 117 100
Rich Gannon (35) 60 3430 28 11 92.4 124 111
Steve Young (35) 12 GS 67.7 2410 14 6 97.2 106 120

Fouts threw the second most interceptions of his career at the age of 35. And prior to his 1996 season shown here, Marino only had one year with less than 20 touchdowns, and that came in 1993 when he played in only five games.

Production at age 36

Player Completion % Passing Yards TD INT QB Rating TD % + INT %+
Dan Fouts (36) 10 GS 56.6 2517 10 15 70 85 98
Johnny Unitas (36) 12 GS 54 2342 12 20 64 89 91
Dan Marino (36) 58.2 3780 16 11 80.7 89 117
Matt Hasselbeck (36) 61.6 3571 18 14 82.4 91 103
Brett Favre (36) 61.3 3881 20 29 70.9 91 72
Jim Kelly (36) 13 GS 58.6 2810 14 19 73.2 97 71
Joe Montana (37) 11 GS 60.7 2144 13 7 87.4 108 116
Phil Simms (36) 14 GS 59.2 2284 15 4 92.7 110 133
Jim Plunkett (36) 13 GS 60.7 2935 20 18 82.7 111 93
Steve Young (36) 15 GS 67.7 3029 19 6 104.7 114 122
Rich Gannon (36) 65.8 3828 27 9 95.5 114 125
Warren Moon (36) 10 GS 64.7 2521 18 12 89.3 118 101
John Elway (36) 61.6 3328 26 14 89.2 121 102
Kurt Warner (36) 11 GS 62.3 3417 27 17 89.8 123 88
Roger Staubach (36) 55.9 3190 25 16 84.9 124 115

Unitas is the most compelling comparison since he missed nearly all of the 1968 season, playing in just five games. The 1969 stat line shown here reflects a recovering Unitas after he tore tendons in his arm.

Prior his age 36 season, Unitas only had two years in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. His 12 TDs were his lowest total in a season when he started at least 10 games, and his -8 touchdown/interception ratio tied his career-low in 1961.

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