Looking back, Broncos rewind: Manning on Peyton

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 04: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos runs the offense against the Minnesota Vikings at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 4, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Vikings 23-20. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 04: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos runs the offense against the Minnesota Vikings at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 4, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Vikings 23-20. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /
Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning
DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 30: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos warms up prior to the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 30, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images) /

Peyton Manning had a larger impact on my view of the Denver Broncos than I could have imagined. I took some time to review his career in orange and blue.

With Steve Atwater’s place in the Hall of Fame being solidified, to Peyton Manning’s sure-fire spot in Canton, to a wonderful article the staff at Predominantly Orange put together recognizing the All-Time Broncos team, I began to look back nostalgically at the tremendous players the Denver Broncos have had over the last 60 years.

I find it important to express the impact great players make on the field and to our fandom. Peyton Manning’s influence on me ranged from an idol at the position I played to a man who seemed to possess leadership traits I desired to display.

Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee

As a young boy, I collected football annuals would read them front to back and back to front. I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of every team.

In 1996, I read a story about Tennesse quarterback, junior phenom Peyton Manning. The last name caught my eye so I had to learn more.

I studied his statistics from his previous two seasons and tried to watch him as much as possible on Saturdays. For the next two years, I marveled at the way he played directing Tennessee to impressive wins.

At such a young age, Peyton Manning displayed such a control of the field it was mind-boggling. He directed players pre-snap at a time when no one was doing that.

I looked at Peyton’s game with awe and admiration. As a high school quarterback at the time, I would have given anything to have that type of freedom.

But, that freedom was earned. Peyton Manning’s outstanding understanding of the game was something I dreamt of having but would never, or could never, achieve.

Peyton would finish his college career with over 11,000 passing yards and 89 TD to 33 INT. Peyton’s 1997 season earned him a slew of awards including All-American Honors and the Davey O’Brien Trophy as the nation’s best quarterback.

Peyton Manning would lose out on the Heisman his senior year but there was little doubt in my mind how good of a player he was and would become.

Peyton’s early impact on the NFL

Peyton Manning would be the number one overall selection in the 1998 draft.

He, like most rookies, would start his career with some hiccups, suffering through a 3-13 campaign. Manning would lead the NFL in interceptions his rookie season. However, he rebounded to throw 26 TDs and 16 INTs in his second season to lead the Indianapolis Colts to a 13-3 record.

Mind you, the Colts at the time were a shell of a franchise and had been regulated to the cellar of the AFC East for the better part of two decades.

Manning’s ability to learn from his mistakes is admirable both on and off the field.

As a player or person, you could admire Manning’s ability to change his behavior and improve. His work ethic was like no one else in the game.

I followed his games year in and year out. Peyton Manning was the epitome of how quarterbacks should play the game and only got better.

I even was only slightly dishearted after back to back playoff losses stunted Broncos seasons. Peyton’s play against the Broncos in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs was a dream for some and a nightmare for Broncos fans. The addition of Hall of Famer Champ Bailey did little to slow down Manning’s offensive onslaught.

Oh, what it would be like to have a quarterback like that. It had been years since Denver had an elite player at the most important position in sports.

Peyton Manning comes to Denver

Fast forward to the turn of 2012 when Tebow Mania is in full effect. The Broncos are coming off a magical season with a surprise playoff victory of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the media is ecstatic about the opportunity to cover Tebow in Denver for the next decade.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning is fresh off of multiple neck surgeries and a stint on injured reserve for the first time in his career. Rumor has it that the Colts are seriously thinking of moving on from the multi-MVP quarterback for a chance to draft the next prodigy, Andrew Luck.

To the surprise of this lifelong fan of the Broncos and an admirer of Peyton Manning’s game, the rumors of Denver being involved in the “Peyton Sweepstakes” begins. I think little of it because there is no way he could come to Denver, right?

As traction begins, the rumors become more real. Potential suitors for Peyton continue to drop off until there are only a few left, including the Denver Broncos. What if he picked another team? What if he came to Denver? The excitement of being in running was almost too much to bear.

March 20th, 2012, Peyton Manning is formally introduced as the Denver Broncos quarterback. My excitement went through the roof. I could not care less about his injury history because I knew what kind of work ethic Peyton had and his expectation to perform at the highest level. I believed Peyton would not be coming back if he did not believe he could play.

I purchased as many home game tickets as possible and attended six games that season.

Watching Peyton Manning’s chess match with Troy Polamalu during week one of that season, and leading to a Denver victory was something special.

Hearing the normally deafening crowd at Invesco quiet as you heard the “Sheriff” yell, “Omaha, Omaha” in orange and blue, was something I never thought Broncos fans would see.

The Broncos would shrug off a rough start to reel off 11 straight in one of the most magical seasons I have ever witnessed. As all of Broncos Country knows, this was a team that had it all and should have won it all (but we won’t discuss why).

Having Peyton suit up for your favorite team created a sense of pride that most fans are not fortunate enough to experience, but had we all missed out on the team’s best chance to win a championship?

Peyton’s record-setting year

Peyton and the Broncos came out with a vengeance in 2013, much to all of our surprise. I knew the team would be improved in 2013 with a few key additions (Wes Welker) but would have never expected the greatest statistical season the NFL had ever seen.

Manning’s control of the game was on full display throughout the season as he carved up defenses week in week out. What a sight to behold.

From Manning’s seven-touchdown performance against the Ravens to his boot keep around the end against the Cowboys, he just found ways to put points on the board.

As a high school quarterback coach during the 2013 season, I would use his presnap recognition as a template for players to see the power of manipulation. He no longer had a strong arm, and frankly, it was below average, but his ability to know where to put the ball more than compensated for his diminishing physical skills.

Most young players can learn to be successful at any level if they work to understand the strengths and weaknesses of themselves, teammates, and opponents. Manning was a prime example of this and it shows us all that we can still achieve something great even when we aren’t the most gifted.

Peyton Manning’s Swan Song

After injury-marred Peyton’s 2014 season and effectively ended Manning’s third attempt at a ring in Denver, the Broncos brought in Gary Kubiak.

Most believed the end was near, if not present. We all doubted that the 2015 Broncos could transition into a Super Bowl champion with 39-year-old quarterback trying to learn a new offense for the first time, in a long time.

The season would start sluggish for Manning, but stellar for the Broncos. Denver would start with a 7-0 record peaking after an emphatic win against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers showing that maybe there would be a magical season after all.

Peyton would get the NFL all-time yardage record before suffering an injury and being shut down for months.

All had looked lost as Brock Osweiler had seemed to right the ship and take away the job.

Manning wasn’t done, not quite yet. He fought his way back to game action and came into a raucous crowd in week 17 against the San Diego Chargers.

The Sherrif was back.

Peyton would provide a spark to a team in dire need of his leadership. I could not have been happier for an athlete I had never met then at that moment (outside of John Elway holding up the Lombardi Trophy for the first time).

I attended both the AFC Divisional game and the AFC Championship game.

At times, I worried about the matchups but not Peyton. I believed he would pull through just as he had done his entire career. There was just something different in 2015 and I felt it.

Peyton would make several plays, providing the historic Bronco defense with just enough points to beat the potent Steelers and Patriots on their way to Super Bowl 50.

Watching the confetti poor down after the Broncos secured their spot in the Super Bowl for the 9th was a perfect chapter in the storybook career of Peyton Manning.

But, did he have enough to bring home a final championship to ride off in the sunset?

Peyton and the Broncos offense came out throwing to grab an early lead. After a sack, fumble, and score, the Broncos had a lead that felt insurmountable for the Carolina Panthers, and it was.

Peyton would show his leadership again not by putting the team on his back, but by showing humility in his effort. He knew that his role was to be a supporting cast member to Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and the best defense in the game.

Peyton accepted his place on the team and his role within it by lifting up the importance of his teammates play above his own. Peyton again showed how to lead, I took note and continued to evolve in my own personal approach as a leader at home and professionally.

Peyton Manning will never know, but his impact reached further than the field. The way he conducted himself impacted his teammates, coaches, and fans. He helped provide an example of how to conduct ourselves.

Even in retirement, Peyton Manning continues to bring pride to Broncos Country.

I am confident speaking for all of us, we hope he finds his way back.

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Lives are just better with a Manning in it.