DENVER -- It's hard to believe it's been almost a decade since the decision that changed the course of Broncos history.
The Broncos recruited Peyton Manning, John Elway striking the perfect balance of patience and purpose with the all-time great quarterback. Nine years ago, the Broncos signed Manning as a free agent. Manning admittedly was saddled with doubt about his recovery from neck surgeries, but found comfort in the customized fit.
All Manning did was live up the hype. He won four AFC West crowns, appeared in two Super Bowls, becoming the first quarterback to start and win the game with two different teams.
"Denver, boy they just welcomed me with open arms. They were the only team that really just understood what I was going through emotionally, physically, and a lot of that was Elway," Manning said when I asked him the question about his final years. "They were the only team that said, 'Hey Peyton, give us your Indianapolis playbook and we will form this hybrid offense with the plays we like in Denver that will help you at this point in your career. We will really give you a chance to get back going again.' And not every team was doing that. I will always be indebted to Denver. ... You can only live in one place, and Denver's just been a great place to live. I couldn't have made a better decision."
The roots are real. Manning attends Broncos games. He is a season-ticket holder, though I am sure he could make a few calls to get some pretty sweet comps. In fact when asked about taking on a role with the organization given the ownership uncertainty, he did not dismiss the idea.
"I am as interested in what's going to happen as anybody because I care about it," Manning said.
The Broncos trust could approve one of Pat Bowlen's children to take over -- with Brittany Bowlen as the preferred choice. But in the league's eyes, there would have to be one voice and the other siblings in agreement, not challenging a decision. Could that happen? Will the team be sold? Or what about bringing in investors to buy out siblings not in line with a future successor?
The drama creates ripe speculation that Manning could be critical to the team's future in some capacity.
"I’ve gone on a year-to-year basis in this 2nd chapter. I’m going to try to do this, this year. I don’t go past that because you try different things and maybe you like it, maybe you don’t. I will always be a part of the Broncos and Colts organizations in some way," Manning said. "But I’m interested in what’s going to happen. I haven’t said no to anything officially forever. I’ve just said no to some things each year. The next year, maybe things change. So, who knows what will happen in that."
Manning won five MVP awards and two titles. That's a lot to wrap up in eight minutes. The Hall of Fame is determined to crack down on the length of speeches -- the heart is in the right place to be fair to all those enshrined. As such, Peyton's is about done.
"It is 7 minutes, 50 seconds," he said, joking that he was interested to see if they try to remove a lineman offstage. "It's hard to thank everyone."
Manning might see everyone before his entrance into Canton next month. His life mirrors "Where's Waldo?" He's hosting a game show -- "I would have said you were crazy if you told me I would do that after my career was over," Manning joked -- attending Tennessee baseball games in Knoxville and Omaha and throwing out the first pitch at the All-Star Game.
Flanked by Rockies legend Todd Helton, Manning one-hopped the fastball to Rockies pitcher German Marquez. Manning, as he so often did against a defense, had the perfect response.
"It was an 0-2 count in my head," Manning said. "So I had a pitch to throw away."