KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Peyton Manning won his seventh NFL 101 Award on Saturday night as AFC offensive player of the year.
The Denver quarterback came back from a neck injury and transitioned to a new team, and had one of his best seasons. He led the Broncos to a 13-3 season and threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Manning said receiving the award meant a little more to him this year.
"Absolutely, there's no question that it does," he said. "When you are making a comeback, it's because you love the game and want to help the team win. An individual award isn't the goal, but it's very much appreciated and it's extremely gratifying."
Other honorees on included: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson for NFC offensive player of the year; Houston defensive end J.J. Watt for AFC defensive player of the year; San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith for NFC defensive player of the year; Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians of the Colts were co-winners for AFC coach of the year; and Pete Carroll of the Seahawks for NFC coach of the year.
Don Shula, the NFL's winningest coach, received the Lamar Hunt Award for his impact on the NFL and former safety Dick Anderson was saluted for his contributions to the 1972 Miami Dolphins' 17-0 season.
Manning's appearance capped a whirlwind day in which he awoke in Germany as part of a USO tour visiting the troops. The flight back to the United States landed in Washington, D.C., and Manning was then able to catch another flight to Kansas City, arriving in time for a pre-event news conference.
"At each stage this season, I'd reflect back to what I was doing a year ago at that point," said Manning, who sat out the 2011 season because of the neck injury. "I've been reflective all year and this is a nice way to culminate it. This has really been a special comeback and there is an endless list of people who have helped me along the way."
One of those helpers was Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who served as the offensive co-ordinator at Tennessee when Manning played for the Vols. Manning spent time working with Cutcliffe in Durham, N.C., last year and selected Cutcliffe to introduce him at Saturday's event.
"The most incredible part is that a guy who had already done it all was willing to push himself over the top to get back," Cutcliffe said. "That defines Peyton Manning. I don't think anybody else could have done it."
Smith's appearance enabled him to come full circle. The 49er linebacker accepted his award just a few miles from Raytown High School where he played through 2007. Smith led the NFC and was second in the NFL last season with 19.5 sacks.
"They retired my jersey at the school (Friday), so coming back and then receiving this award is a pretty good homecoming present," Smith said.
Pagano and Arians combined to lead the Colts to an 11-5 record and a spot in the AFC playoffs. After Pagano left the team Oct. 1 to begin treatments for leukemia, Arians took over and the Colts responded to claim a Wild Card spot.
"I've always felt that if you gave NFL players an extra reason to play other than a paycheque, they could bond and rally and anything could happen," Arians said.
In his third season with the Seahawks, Carroll saw his team go 11-5 and pick up a wild card playoff win at Washington.
"We're proud of where we are right now," Carroll said. "(Quarterback) Russell Wilson is one of the most exciting players in the league and could turn any program around."
Peterson led the NFL with 2,097 rushing yards, becoming just the seventh player to crack the 2,000 mark. Watt had a league-high 20.5 sacks and league-high 16 passes defended. Both players had prior commitments and were represented Saturday by their head coaches.
Shula entertained the audience with memories of the Chiefs-Dolphins double-overtime playoff game on Christmas Day, 1971.
"We managed to hang on and win with a field goal at the end," Shula said. "When we got back to Miami, the fans had left their homes on Christmas to welcome us. They lined up around the airport and it was one of the great days of my life.
"Maybe this isn't the place to talk about it," Shula added as laughter broke out. "But I thought I'd talk about it anyway."