Four years ago, no one knew what to expect - least of all Peyton Freaking Manning.
The long-time Indianapolis Colts quarterback was on the heels of four neck surgeries that forced him to miss the entire 2011 season.
There was debate about whether Manning would ever return to the player he was, let alone even play again.
That didn’t matter to Broncos Country. The name itself was enough to make even the most ardent Broncos fan feel an emotion not felt since 1999: hope.
Hope that the franchise could take the next step.
Hope that the franchise could return to Super Bowl glory.
That’s all the fans wanted. That’s all the organization desired.
The date March 20, 2012, will go down as one of the greatest in Denver sports history.
PFM was a member of the Broncos. It was, and to an extent still is, surreal.
That was only the start of the magical ride.
We came to find out that Manning couldn’t throw the ball 5 feet when he started his rehab. We found out just how much he had to endure to sign in Denver.
Yet when he took the field at Mile High in Broncos orange for the first time in a regular-season game on Sept. 9, 2012, we got a glimpse of what was to come. If there was any doubt Manning was back, the 31-19 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers ended all of that.
The hope gave way to, “Holy cow, this could actually happen.”
Then it did.
- Two Super Bowl appearances
- One Super Bowl win
- Four-straight AFC West titles
- One MVP
- 19,062 yards
- 151 TDs
- 50-15 record
On top of the numbers, it’s the memories Manning created for Broncos and NFL fans all over the world. What each remembers and cherishes will always be a personal thing.
Where you were, what you were doing and who you were with will make the ones you choose more powerful.
From Manning’s “helicopter” moment in the AFC Championship Game against New England to the fake self-sack against the Steelers, the list could go on and on.
The moment he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy over his head after the 24-10 win in Super Bowl 50 is at the top of my list.
There are the soundbites, the looks, the passion, the dancing, the jokes, the pranks and, of course, “Omaha.”
But the magic of Manning goes beyond the gridiron.
What I will remember about Manning’s time in Denver above all the touchdowns and wins, is the times I teared up reading the latest story about what he did to make someone’s life better. Not day. Not week. Not year. Their life.
There could be many more unheard stories beyond those we already know about. That reveals even more about the character and man that is PFM.
The countless kids who got a phone call, note or visit.
The smiles he brought to terminal patients who had no earthly reason to do so. Whether it was a letter or a short conservation, handshake and photo capped by a “Hi, I’m Peyton Manning.” As if they didn’t know who he was. But he made it personal.
If it was an in-person meeting with Manning, it was never more than 10 to 15 minutes, but it was enough to give them hope that there is good in this world.
Perhaps they even got tickets to a game and the chance to meet their hero when it was finished.
Manning helps make dreams come true.
“Off the field, Peyton’s kindness and generosity, especially toward those in need, made a real difference on a very personal level,” Broncos CEO and President Joe Ellis said in a news release. “Our team, our organization and our community are all better because of Peyton Manning. He raised the performance of those around him and raised the level of excellence here at the Broncos.
“Peyton’s been a first-class ambassador who did things the right way and had such a positive impact on the Broncos.”
Added Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway: “When you look at everything Peyton has accomplished as a player and person, it’s easy to see how fortunate we’ve been to have him on our team. Peyton was everything that we thought he was and even more - not only for the football team but in the community.”
The success on the field speaks for itself.
What Manning accomplished in his four years with the Broncos is a career for most quarterbacks. He had more success and played better in Denver than he did with the Colts. One could make the argument the two best quarterbacks in NFL history played for the Broncos. And they both finished their careers with Super Bowl wins.
It’s remarkable there was doubt he could do it when he signed here in 2012.
But all of that pales in comparison to what Manning has done and will continue to do to make people’s lives better.
Four years ago, we had no idea what to expect when Manning signed in Denver.
As he’s apt to do, he gave us all hope.