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    Default How Peyton made his decision

    Peyton Manning's methodical job hunt came down to feeling comfortable

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Peyton Manning sounded relieved. It was his first day at work on a new job, and in so many ways this moment took way too long to arrive.

    He was a bit anxious, too.

    Standing in a lobby on the second floor of Denver Broncos headquarters, Manning was clutching the bright orange jersey presented to him at an introductory news conference a couple of hours earlier. But now his blue, pinstriped jacket was off.

    He was a few minutes closer to hitting the weight room, which had practical, symbolic and emotional significance after nearly two weeks in official limbo and an exhaustive search to find a new team following 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

    • MORE PEYTON MANNING: See all The Indianapolis Star's stories, photos and videos about the Indianapolis Colts quarterback's release.

    It was only March, something the Broncos trainers had reminded the 36-year-old quarterback, who is out to prove that he is the Manning that you remember.

    "They know that it bothers me that I'm not where I want to be yet," Manning said. "They feel they have a good strength program to help me in this process. I did think that the sooner I could get somewhere and get back into a routine, that would help me. That's another reason why I'm so glad to be here."

    Routine has always been crucial for Manning, a foundation for the precision that has made him a special quarterback. Everything must be in order, methodical, consistent and controlled. While such a nature has contributed to Manning's reputation for obsession, he ultimately kills opponents with it.

    Yet now, in some ways, he also wants to rush the calendar.

    Manning is the only man who has been named MVP four times. He has passed for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns, third most in NFL history in both categories. His 141 victories as a starter ranks fourth all time, with a winning percentage (.678) that is best among any of the five quarterbacks who have won 125 games.

    No quarterback has earned more Pro Bowl selections than Manning (11), produced more 4,000-yard seasons (11), notched more 300-yard games (63) or had more seasons with 25 or more passing TDs (13).

    He also has had four neck operations.

    That underscores the risk factor with this deal. The Broncos signed Manning to a five-year, $96 million contract that includes the league's highest average salary ($19.2 million), confident of a complete comeback.

    The contract, with no signing bonus, includes a guaranteed $18 million for 2012, with $20 million salaries for 2013 and '14 guaranteed if Manning passes a neck exam 10 days before the opening of free agency.

    "People keep saying 'four neck surgeries,' but it was one surgery and call it what you want, but three other 'procedures,' " Manning said.

    The procedures, which left small incision scars on the front and back of his neck, occurred over a 19-month span and caused him to miss the 2011 season. The major operation, anterior fusion surgery, was performed Sept. 8. Typically, the surgery — addressing pinched nerves — involves the removal of soft disk tissue between vertebrae and fusing the bones with a graft.

    Manning remains in rehab mode, seeking to regain complete strength in his record-producing right arm and banking on the nerves to fully regenerate as doctors expect.

    Along the way, he has learned much about the nuances of an injured neck.

    "Too much," he said.

    One of the perks of Manning's free agent search was the additional opinions about his physical condition. In addition to gauging his arm during workouts, each of the finalists gave Manning positive feedback as they passed him on exams.

    "It was kind of liberating to me to say, 'Here it is. It's on y'all now.' And nobody blinked," said Manning, who started 208 consecutive games before the injury. "They all said the same thing, that I'm on a good track. I can't defend the MRI, or defend the throwing in trying to sell myself. So it was open book, cards on the table. 'Here's what the throwing looks like. Here's the medical. You tell me.' "

    How close is his arm to being 100%?

    "I can't put a percentage on it," Manning said. "It's not where I want it to be. Could you win a game with it? Yeah, I think I can. But there are no games here in March. I've come a long way, but I have some work to do. Getting into a routine and not traveling from here to there, sleeping in different beds, will help."

    Big decision

    When Manning woke up on the third Monday in March, he was in a familiar physical environment, if not in the typical mental space. He was at home in Indianapolis, two days after celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife, Ashley. And, finally, he was a man who had made up his mind.

    He chose the Broncos over the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans.

    "I didn't feel like it was right to just do this to get it over with," he said. "I felt like I had to get some peace about it, get some comfort. In some ways, I wish I wouldn't have gotten to know some of the teams as well as I did, because I liked everything about a lot of them."

    Manning worked out for the three finalists and also visited with the Arizona Cardinals in Tempe and with the Miami Dolphins in Indianapolis.

    The New York Jets and Washington Redskins were early candidates. In the case of the Redskins, their push seemingly ended before it started when they traded for the No. 2 pick in the draft, which they will likely use to take quarterback Robert Griffin III. Manning learned of the deal while having dinner with Elway — and the night before meetng with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan in Denver, according to Sports Illustrated.

    Manning kept the meeting and talked football with Shanahan, who coached Elway for four seasons.

    The more information Manning collected, the more difficult the choice became. He connected with Titans coach Mike Munchak and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, just as he had bonded with John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback who heads Broncos football operations.

    "I was gravitating to some of the ex-players," Manning said of narrowing his list. "But the deeper you go in, the harder it was to say no. And you could only pick one place. I remember feeling this way coming out of high school. You want to go to all of them."

    Manning liked what he heard from Munchak, a Hall of Fame lineman who has an extreme appreciation for protecting quarterbacks. He could also relate to Harbaugh, the competitive ex-quarterback whom he succeeded with the Colts.

    Decisions, decisions.

    It is difficult for Manning to identify a single factor that tipped the scale.

    Surely, it wasn't money. The Titans would have exceeded the Broncos' package, and team owner Bud Adams said he would have given Manning a lifetime job.

    "I had flattering offers," Manning said. "At some point, you have to narrow it to certain things, and it starts with football."

    It wasn't about joining the team seemingly best-positioned for a championship. The 49ers, coming off an NFC title-game loss, have one of the league's best defenses and a potent rushing attack powered by Frank Gore. In free agency, they upgraded their receiving corps and enlisted seemingly hungry Randy Moss.

    "People were saying, 'You didn't go to San Francisco because they are in the NFC.' That's not true," said Manning, dismissing the notion that he wouldn't want to face his brother, Eli, in any postseason game other than a Super Bowl. "I know they are in the NFC. I know the conferences. I wouldn't have gone into it that deep if that were the case.

    "And I know the Titans are in the AFC South. It wasn't that I didn't want to play the Colts twice a year. Every interest that was there, I was sincere about it."

    In the end, it came down to feeling comfortable. At the news conference, Manning talked of finding an organizational fit with the Broncos, of waking up that Monday with a gut feeling that reinforced what he felt the previous night and wanted to sleep on.

    Explaining this, he catches himself.

    "You've got to be careful saying stuff," he said. "If you had the comfort here, does it mean, 'Well, you didn't have it there?' It was more, 'Every place, I wanted to go.' "

    Perhaps that's why the decision came with such anguish.

    By the time Manning called Elway — who was huddled in his office with Broncos coach John Fox that Monday morning — he had phoned Munchak, Adams and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and informed them that he wasn't coming aboard.

    "He sounded so tired," Elway said.

    Manning told Elway that it had been a rough morning, because he had called the other teams.

    "I froze, and all I thought was, 'I wonder what number we are?' " Elway said. " 'Are we one, two or what?' "

    After Manning uttered the news, Elway flashed a thumbs-up sign to Fox, who literally jumped for joy. With Elway on the phone, Fox muffled his excitement — barely.

    "Almost pulled both hamstrings," Fox said of his impromptu reaction.

    Fox exceeded expectations during his first year at the helm as he turned over the offense to Tim Tebow— teaming with coordinator Mike McCoy to fashion an offense that was built around the type of run-pass options that Tebow flourished in at Florida — and produced an unexpected AFC West title.

    Yet in the hours before the Manning decision came down, Fox was antsy. He didn't sleep well Sunday and came to the office early Monday morning. Fox was prodding Elway about what to do next in the pursuit of Manning — sit tight and wait or call him back? — when the phone rang.

    "Two days felt like two weeks," Fox said of anticipating Manning's decision.

    On the other end of the line, Manning was pressed as well.

    Although news media reports suggested Manning wanted to find a new team within a week of his release from the Colts, the process was not going to be rushed.

    Yet time was not exactly Manning's ally.

    "I called a lot of people," he said. "It was like, 'Just tell me where to go.' "

    In the end, Manning knew it was his decision alone. Ashley didn't have a preference. The Mannings are parents to twins, Marshall and Mosley, who are nearly a year old.

    "She was OK with whatever I came up with," Peyton said of Ashley. "They're all great places to live. She knew I had to get to know the football part of it and get comfortable with that."

    While there was no hard deadline to make the call, he intuitively knew the importance of the timing.

    "I was starting to feel the heat from these other teams," he said. "I felt they were under the gun. And I just don't like anybody being hung out there."

    That includes fellow quarterbacks. Manning said the ripple effect of his decision gnawed at him. The 49ers didn't re-sign Alex Smith, who had visited Miami as a free agent, until Manning made his decision. The Titans would have had to move veteran Matt Hasselbeck, with second-year pro Jake Locker in the wings, to accommodate Manning's arrival. And a day after Manning signed, the Broncos traded Tebow to the New York Jets.

    "I hate the part about it that other quarterbacks were affected," Manning said. "I'm in that fraternity. Somebody's going to have my old job in Indianapolis. I just wanted to go somewhere and play, and I didn't know how else to do it.

    "I hope those guys understand. I'll reach out to all of them at some point, when I get to breathe. I hope they don't hold it against me. I wish it all could have been under the radar."

    Containment policy

    As the most prominent player to hit the open market since Reggie White in 1993, Manning realized that his desire for a low-key search for a new team was wishful thinking.

    Even so, he was determined to keep the search as private as possible, one reason why there was little in the way of public comments coming from prominent figures in the Manning camp, such as his father, Archie, and his agent, Tom Condon.

    Manning said he didn't even talk to Condon for four days during one stretch of his search. He went solo during his visits with the teams, and was so hands-on in controlling the process that he arranged much of the logistical planning directly with the teams.

    Yet that approach couldn't prevent what happened when he flew to Miami, hours after bidding farewell to about 30 Colts employees during a post-news conference reception on the day he was released.

    Manning saw the reception as a fitting piece of closure on his way out of Indianapolis, where the timing of his departure was tied to a $28 million roster bonus due March 8 — and the franchise's ability to rebuild around Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is expected to be drafted No. 1 overall in April.

    Upon his arrival in Miami, where he has an offseason home, Manning quickly discovered the intensity of the news media coverage.

    He was even trailed by a news helicopter.

    Soon after, Fox called.

    "He was blown away," Fox said. "It was a paparazzi-like event when he landed there. We talked about that first. I was just kind of seeing how he was doing."

    Then there was the other matter.

    "I also wanted to feel him out, see what his plans were," Fox said.

    Fox watched Manning's farewell news conference on a television in his office and called a staff meeting to discuss the pursuit of Manning. With the initial call, Manning made the decision to kick off his tour with a visit to the Broncos.

    "I didn't know if that was going to work for us or against us," Fox said.

    It worked.

    Manning's connection with Elway was a key component to the comfort level he found with the Broncos. Elway told Manning to take his time in deciding and that he could relate to the emotions that come with spending his entire career with the Colts.

    That laid-back approach appealed to Manning. Yet the vibe with Fox and the coaching staff was significant in its own right.

    While Fox has a defensive background, his style as a head coach is stamped by a willingness to adapt. With Manning in the fold, the Broncos will transition from a read-option scheme to an up-tempo system that plays to the strengths of the quarterback.

    Manning likely will continue to go to the line of scrimmage, scan the defense and choose from run or pass options on every play.

    And Fox envisions extensive use of a no-huddle offense, which could add to whatever home-field advantage that comes with opposing defenses tiring in the high altitude.

    Of course, much rides on whether Manning regains his health and resembles the star quarterback he has been for years.

    Fox says he's not worried, not after seeing Manning confirm his condition during the private workout for the Broncos.

    Manning, meanwhile, talks of chasing another Super Bowl and allowing his performance to prove that his big decision was correct.

    "I've really tried to have a good attitude about this, tried to have peace," Manning said. "I've prayed a lot about it, just trying to say there's a reason for this. So many players have been hurt. Going back to high school, this is the first time it has happened to me. So really, you just try to deal with it."

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  3. #2
    BoilerUpMan Really?'s Avatar
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    Default Re: How Peyton made his decision

    Seems interesting I will read the whole thing later when I have a hr to spare, lol

    Thanks for posting this though, I really will check it out.
    Why so SERIOUS

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    Default Re: How Peyton made his decision

    I was surprised to read Manning met with the Redskins for 3 hours and both sides were interested in each other.

    Good read, thanks for posting

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    Never Give Up aero's Avatar
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    Default Re: How Peyton made his decision

    pretty good read. Gives a lot of insight as to how the whole situation played out. thanks for posting this.
    If you havin' depth problems, I feel bad for you son; I got 99 problems but a bench ain't one! - Hicks

  6. #5
    Jimmy did what Jimmy did Bball's Avatar
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    Jan 2004

    Default Re: How Peyton made his decision

    Manning... ever the politician...
    Lots of info but in the end we still don't know exactly why he chose the Broncos over the other teams.

    We still don't know from the horse's mouth (pun intended.. Colt... Bronco... Horses get it? ) why Miami quickly was out of the running, or why not the 49'ers.... etc etc...
    Nuntius was right for a while. I was wrong for a while. But ultimately I was right and Frank Vogel has been let go.


    "A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork."

    -John Wooden

  7. #6

    Default Re: How Peyton made his decision

    Peyton Manning's Long Game
    The behind-the-scenes story of how the most prized free agent in NFL history hit the recruiting trail—and how he ended up a Denver Bronco

    I don't know what to do. What does a free agent do?

    —PEYTON MANNING, March 7, to his quarterback mentor and friend, David Cutcliffe

    This doesn't happen to legends with time left on the clock. Legends who can play—and Peyton Manning can still play, if his neck holds up—don't jet across the country from one city to the next in a two-week span to showcase themselves. And let teams showcase themselves to him. Manning, the highest profile free agent in NFL history, interviewed the teams that wanted him as much as they asked questions of him.

    In a meeting with the Broncos on March 9 the four-time league MVP turned to coach John Fox's two chief aides, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and inquired, "What about you guys? You one and done?" Meaning: Will you take the first head-coaching offer you get if we have success here in 2012?

    The question surprised both men. Del Rio, fired as the Jaguars' coach three months earlier, said all he wanted to do was get back to hand-on coaching and away from the politics of the top job. McCoy said he turned down one head-coaching interview last year because it didn't feel right; he said he'd leave only for the right job.

    On March 20, Manning was formally introduced as the Broncos' quarterback. There's been much speculation as to why he chose Denver over a team with a regional, nostalgic edge (Tennessee, where he'd gone to college) or a clearly better roster (San Francisco, which came within a game of the Super Bowl last season). The reason can be summed up in a word: familiarity. Familiarity with Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who won two Super Bowls in his late 30s and with whom Manning shared a clear mutual respect. Familiarity, too, with Fox, a former college recruiter who put his skills of persuasion to good use; and with Del Rio, against whom Manning competed for years when Del Rio was coaching Jacksonville in the AFC South. Familiarity with good friend and Denver resident Brandon Stokley, the former Colts receiver, who hosted Manning on his two trips to Colorado during the process (and who might be in camp with the Broncos this summer). Familiarity with the teams on Denver's schedule in 2012, franchises Manning has faced a total of 93 times. "From talking with Peyton during the process," said Tony Dungy, his former coach with the Colts, "I sensed Denver was the closest thing he could find to what he had in Indianapolis."

    And this: Manning likes to be in control. Of everything. In this process, he was. Elway played the game perfectly by doing precisely what Manning wanted him to do—make your case, then stay out of the way while I make my call.

    The story of Manning's stressful fortnight of freedom includes misdirection car rides, secret meetings and workouts, and words of wisdom from trusted confidants. Here's how it went down.


    After an emotional farewell news conference in Indianapolis on the seventh, Manning spent an hour with 30 longtime Colts employees. "Maintenance, secretaries, equipment guys, everybody who'd been there a long time," he said. "Some guys leave a place after a long time, and they're bitter. Not me. But it was important for me to get closure."

    He then flew to Miami, where he and his wife, Ashley, have a vacation home, and was annoyed to be chased by local news crews and a helicopter as if he were O.J. riding up the 405. One of his first phone calls that night was from Fox, who told Manning that the Broncos would love to have him visit when he was ready. From his 10 years working the phones and living rooms of recruits for eight college programs, Fox knows one of the keys is to get in on the ground floor.

    Manning was uncertain what he would do—as recently as the day before he was released he had thought that he and the Colts might work things out—but his decision wasn't going to be about money. It was going to be about picking a place where he'd feel comfortable early on because of how quickly he'd have to mesh with a new team.

    "He sounded bothered that night," Fox said. "Wasn't in his comfort zone."


    There's a nifty website,, that allows users to enter the tail number of a private plane and follow its movements around the country. Thus it was discovered that the Cessna Citation X twin-engine jet belonging to Broncos owner Pat Bowlen had flown to Miami early on March 9, stopped in Stillwater, Okla.—where a Broncos delegation that included Elway, Fox and McCoy was watching Oklahoma State's pro day—and landed at an airport in suburban Englewood, Colo. After disembarking from the plane with Manning, the party traveled to the team facility two miles away, pursued by a media armada.

    From the start it was apparent that Elway would be the Broncos' greatest asset. He had won back-to-back Super Bowls with Denver at ages 37 and 38, after many thought he was finished. Manning is 36. "How many people in the world can identify with what Peyton's going through right now?" said former NFL safety John Lynch, a friend of both men. "A very small handful. John's one of them. I saw it in their conversations. They really connected."

    Fox had Broncos p.r. man Patrick Smyth address two elements he thought would be used against Denver in the bidding—that its defense would hurt Manning's chances of winning big and that Manning, who'd played his home games indoors since entering the league in 1998, would suffer outdoors in Denver. Smyth came up with two tidbits for Fox to use on Manning.

    "Do you realize," Fox asked the QB, "that the Broncos have played 519 home games, and the average temperature at kickoff has been 60.1 degrees?"

    That was Manning's kind of stat. As was the next. "In your 14 years in Indianapolis," Fox said, "the Colts averaged 26 points per game. In my 10 years as a head coach [with the Panthers and the Broncos], when our teams scored 26 points or more, our record is 39--3."

    The Broncos had planned to host a dinner for Manning that Friday night, but how to do it quietly? To dodge the media, staffers prepared seven vehicles to leave the complex at the same time. A news crew from Fox affiliate KDVR-TV followed the van that had transported Manning from the airport. When it reached a seafood place, the crew went in and asked a Broncos employee, "Where's Manning?" Not here. He'd slipped into a black SUV with tinted windows, which had taken him to Cherry Hills Country Club. There he was ready to hear Elway's sales pitch.

    Except Elway wasn't selling. When the Hall of Fame quarterback sat with Manning alone at the club, Elway saw a person "in shock" over being cut and imagined what it would have been like if the Broncos, for whom he played his entire career, had released him after 13 or 14 seasons. "There's got to be a dagger in your gut right now," Elway told Manning. "Take your time. Be thorough. Make the right decision, whether it's us or someone else."

    "I put myself in Peyton's shoes," Elway told SI on Sunday night. "No pressure. Don't give the hard sell. Let the organization speak for itself. I told him that as much as I wanted him to play for the Broncos, I knew it would be stupid if we forced him and it wasn't a good fit. That's how I'd feel."

    Midway through the evening Elway received a text telling him the Redskins had just pulled off a huge trade with St. Louis for the second pick in the draft, presumably to take prized Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Elway told Manning, "Whoa—Washington just traded for the second pick. Looks like they'll get RG3."

    "What!?" Manning said, stunned.

    From that reaction, Elway knew that the Redskins had been on Manning's list.

    Manning slept at Stokley's house in suburban Castle Rock that night, and the next morning, Saturday, March 10, the two headed to a nearby field to get a throwing session in. When they found it in use by a lacrosse team, they switched to Plan B, a community park with a 40-yard-square field. As passers-by approached during the workout, Stokley would yell, "Jogger!" or "Cyclist!" and he and Manning would hide the football until the person passed.

    That afternoon Manning had another appointment scheduled—with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle, Washington's offensive coordinator. Though it made little sense after the Rams deal, the Shanahans wanted to keep the date, and Manning did. They discussed football for three hours at Shanahan's expansive house in Denver. Talk about strange connections. Shanahan had been Elway's coach for those two Super Bowls and was fired by the Broncos after the 2008 season. Now Elway ran the Broncos. As Shanahan talked with Manning, a text message popped up on the coach's phone. It was from Elway. "Hey, Mike, put in a good word for us with Peyton." All Shanahan could do was laugh.

    One more surprise: Manning got a call informing him that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had flown, unannounced, with Seattle G.M. John Schneider to the airport in Englewood. Carroll would do whatever Manning wanted—talk for a while in Denver or on the plane to Arizona, his next visit, or fly him to Seattle for a lengthier discussion.

    Peyton Manning does not like surprises. He said no thanks. Carroll flew home.

    When Manning flew to Phoenix on Saturday night to meet with the Cardinals, his every move was again being tracked. Knowing now that he could be tailed wherever he went, Manning thought of a way to confuse his media pursuers. Where can I fly where there's no chance I'll play next year and where nobody will figure I'd go to meet a team? he wondered. And it occurred to him: Indianapolis! He told the Dolphins to meet him on Monday at the Indianapolis airport. In peace.


    Manning was getting into a groove throwing. During the session with Stokley in Denver he'd made 65 hard throws. On Monday in Indianapolis he had a lighter workout, with 40 passes. By Tuesday he was in Raleigh, where he could throw under the eye of David Cutcliffe, who'd been his coordinator in college and is now the coach at Duke. That night 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman came to see Manning throw on a lighted field at Duke. First they watched from a car by the side of the field, then, to get a better view, they came onto the field, hoodies pulled over their heads so as not to be recognized by some nosy iPhoner. Manning texted his mother, Olivia: "You'll never guess who I just worked out for. He was wearing a hoodie."

    "Bill Belichick?" she responded.

    Good one! Nope, Jim Harbaugh.

    On Wednesday, Manning flew from Raleigh to Nashville and spent six hours with the Titans' coaches; no throwing that day. On Thursday, back in Raleigh, 95 more throws with Cutcliffe. Broncos staff came to watch Friday's 55-pass workout. How did he look? "With Peyton, his release time is important, and that's right on target now," said Cutcliffe. "His velocity is right on. His arm slot is right on. His accuracy's amazing. Obviously I'm close to him, but I've watched him throw for almost 20 years now, and I'm really excited about what I think is going to happen. He's going to be great when he needs to be great."

    But for whom? It was getting down to decision time. "These are not math problems," Cutcliffe told Manning. "They don't have single right answers." And he reminded Manning of a credo from their days at Tennessee in the 1990s. "Remember the Patton principle," he told Manning as they drove to the airport for Peyton's trip to Tennessee, where he would work out on Saturday for the Titans. "Yep," Peyton said, recalling Cutcliffe's George S. Patton lesson from college: "Make a decision and do it like hell."


    To say John Fox was nervous would be an understatement. On the morning of the 17th he texted "Happy Anniversary" to both Peyton and Ashley, who were celebrating their 11th. How did he have Ashley Manning's cell number? "Top secret," Fox said. "I recruited for 10 years in college. I was pretty good."

    Manning had told the Titans to meet him at the University of Tennessee football facility in Knoxville on Saturday morning. As Manning drove to the grounds, he saw reporters and camera crews and called Titans coach Mike Munchak, who was driving east on I-40 from Nashville. "The facility's packed with media," Manning said.

    "I didn't tell anyone!" Munchak replied.

    "Don't worry," said Manning. "Just keep driving, and when you get close, call me, and I'll tell you where to go."

    Roger Frazier, Manning's old equipment manager with the Vols, found a field at the private Webb School in Knoxville. Manning called Munchak and told him that when he got off the highway at the appointed exit, he should look for a black car at the end of the ramp and follow it. Munchak did. After a few blocks they pulled up behind another car—Manning's. No media in sight. Manning led them to the field. Though it was raining and water was pooling in one spot, Manning said, "I'm fine." Undisturbed, he threw 55 passes. Then they all went for cheeseburgers.

    Afterward, Manning headed for his family's cabin in Chattanooga. He spent part of the weekend calling people he trusted, then interrupted Fox's dinner on Saturday night by phone with some questions, the tenor of which neither will disclose. "Whatever you decide," Fox told him, "and I hope it's us obviously, we're fine. We appreciate being part of the process."

    Manning talked to another confidant, Bill Parcells, who he knew wouldn't b.s. him. He told Parcells his arm wasn't 100% yet. "You know who Jamie Moyer is?" Parcells asked, referring to the veteran lefthander who's been pitching in the majors since 1986. Manning said he did.

    "He's 49 years old," Parcells said. "He's not 26 anymore, but he's still getting 'em out. Can you still throw well enough to get 'em out?'

    "I think I can," Manning said.

    "Then don't worry about it."

    Manning, of course, wins as much with his head as with his arm. If his arm, still weakened from the time off after four neck procedures, makes him short with a few balls, he should be able to make up for it with his intelligence—checking down, fooling the defense. Manning could play a game right now, but he wants his arm to get stronger before he has to make throws that count. His doctors have told him his strength should improve.

    On Saturday night Manning called Dungy to discuss the pros and cons of the three finalists: Denver, Arizona, Tennessee. Then he asked, "Are there any other things I should be thinking about?"

    Said Dungy, "I told him it's never going to be 100 percent. He had so many good choices, it's going to be 51--49, or maybe 50--50, and then it just comes down to a gut feeling. I told him what [Hall of Fame coach] Chuck Noll told me a long time ago: When you're making an important life decision, make sure it's without regard to money, title or position. Make sure it's about who you're going to be working with and how much you'll enjoy being there."

    Dungy could sense that Manning was leaning toward Denver. "He felt good about Elway, about Mr. Bowlen, about Fox, about the offensive coordinator," Dungy said. "And I think he just wanted confirmation that he wasn't making a mistake."

    Look at the teams that fell short, and you see familiar faces. Manning's dad, Archie, played with Munchak late in his career in Houston. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is a golfing buddy of Manning's and once coached Peyton at the Pro Bowl. Harbaugh preceded Manning as quarterback in Indianapolis. The point men for all were former players.

    Look at the teams that wanted in but were cut out. Kansas City: Manning knows G.M. Scott Pioli but isn't close to anyone there. Seattle: no strong relationships. The Jets and Miami: ditto. Washington was a little different because Manning knows and respects Mike Shanahan, but the draft deal with the Rams ended that.

    On Sunday, Manning knew he was choosing Denver. On Monday he made the phone calls. "I wish I hadn't gotten so close to Munch," Manning said. "That was a tough call. Same with Jim Harbaugh." When he called Elway to tell him the good news, Elway and Fox were discussing whether to make one final push for Manning. Elway answered the phone and gave Fox a thumbs-up. "I almost pulled both hamstrings," Fox said.

    On Tuesday, Manning met the press at the Broncos' facility in Englewood and held up his new orange number 18 jersey. When he finished almost three hours later, he walked down the stairs and into the locker room, put on Broncos shorts and a Broncos T-shirt and began working out. He followed that routine for the next three days.

    Now it was Sunday night, in Palm Beach, Fla., at the league meetings, and Elway was trying to process it all. He'd just pulled off his biggest win since his last game in a Denver uniform, the Super Bowl XXXIII victory over the Falcons. Why did Manning pick Denver?

    "I really don't know," Elway said. "I never asked him. I never asked him who was in it or where we ranked. I just know if I was in his shoes, I'd know how I'd want to be treated. And that's how I tried to treat Peyton."

    It worked.

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