NFL

SportsCentre Year In Review: Broncos win Manning derby

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Dave Naylor, TSN Football Insider
12/15/2012 11:45:15 AM
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Leading up to SportsCentre's Year In Review on Christmas Eve, TSN and TSN.ca look back at each of the Top 10 stories of 2012. And TSN's reporters and analysts who covered the events as they happened offer their personal reflections on the stories.

Today, TSN's Dave Naylor recaps the Denver Broncos winning the much-anticipated Peyton Manning derby.

It was really the NFL's perfect storm, a combination of circumstances that led to a scenario no one could have imagined even six months ahead of time.

Peyton Manning released? Never.

The Colts as bottom-feeders? No way.

Bill Polian fired? Preposterous.
 
And yet by Super Bowl week of 2012, the forces were well in motion to produce one of the most dramatic upheavals in recent professional sports history.

Peyton Manning wasn't just a franchise quarterback for Indianapolis. He was the franchise.
 
Drafted first overall in 1998, he turned the Colts into perennial contenders, enjoyed remarkably good health through the first 14 years of his career and showed few signs of decline by the age of 35. Any doubt that he would spend his entire career with one franchise seemed to be erased the day he signed a five-year, $90 million dollar extension during August of 2011.

Neither the Colts nor Manning knew at the time that a neck injury would force him to miss the entire 2011 season and cast doubt about the very future of his career. Or that without him, the Colts wouldn't just become a worse team, they would become the NFL's worst team.

Which just happened to put them in line to select one of two college quarterbacks - Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III - each pro-ready and the kind of players that comes along once in a generation.

The only question was whether the Colts would really pull the trigger on Manning while he still reasonably had good years remaining - and if he was healthy.
 
By the time the Super Bowl circus touched down (in Indianapolis of all places), that possibility not only existed but seemed all but assured, if still somehow unthinkable.

Like so much of what fuels change in the sports world, the matter came down to dollars. Manning's contract with Indy required the Colts to pay a $28 million dollar bonus on Mar. 8 - an amount that was risk because of Manning's uncertain future.

And with Luck or Griffin there for the taking, Indianapolis had the unique opportunity to pass the baton directly from one franchise quarterback to another.
 
All of which set the stage for a Super Bowl week where, while Peyton Manning may not have stolen the show, he was certainly it's best supporting character.

Manning's image is ubiquitous in Indianapolis and all week locals paraded around in Colts No. 18 jerseys while speculation about his future buzzed everywhere.

A one-on-one interview with Manning aired on Tuesday of Super Bowl week - media day, no less - set the uneasy tone for the week.
 
During his career, no player in football had garnered more respected than Peyton Manning. And yet it was clear from the things he was saying that, despite his best efforts at taking the high road, the whole situation wasn't sitting well with him.

Once little brother Eli had taken care of the Patriots with late-game heroics to win the second Super Bowl title of his career, there was just one story that mattered above all others headed into the off-season.

And so predictably on Mar. 7, Manning, classy as ever, said goodbye to Indianapolis and opened the door on a new chapter of his football life as one of the most-prized - perhaps the most-prized - free agents in pro sports history.

The invitations came quickly. His visits to Tennessee, Miami, Arizona and Denver were covered like those of the Queen or the Pope touching down.

Not that the Peyton Manning narrative of 2012 needed anything to spice it up, but the possibility of him landing in Denver carried with it a very rich twist.

Tim Tebow was not only one of the most popular players in the NFL but one of the most hotly debated athletes of our time.

For all the players in team sports who've been chastised for being great as individuals but poor at producing victories, Tebow was the exact opposite. A player of marginal passing ability in a league increasingly dependant on throwing the football, Tebow had rescued the Broncos season with a series of late-game comebacks capped off by an overtime win of over the Pittsburgh Steelers in January.
 
And the Broncos - and team president John Elway - apparently couldn't get rid of him fast enough.
 
Landing Manning not only would secure the services of an all-time great quarterback, it would free Denver from the grasp of Tebowmania.

Elway beamed when he stood beside the Broncos' new quarterback at the news conference announcing his signing.

It was clear that the two all-time great quarterbacks had a bond, perhaps the kind that can only occur between two men who have stood in similar shoes.
 
Elway was one of the NFL's all-time greats - a Super Bowl winner who played his entire career with one franchise. And Manning was the same.
 
Elway had won two Super Bowl titles in his late 30s, just the way Manning intends to. When they stood together, those in the room could feel the degree of respect between them.

Less than 24 hours after Manning was formally introduced at a new conference in Denver, Tebow - and the inevitable attention he attracts - were shipped off to New York.
 
Tebowmania, it turned, wasn't so much a wave as a blip on the NFL's radar.
 
All these months later, it's hard to say which has been a more seamless transition: Peyton Manning solving the Broncos quarterback issues or Andrew Luck following in Manning's footsteps and somehow making that look easy.

For a series of circumstances that caused so much debate and consternation, there's no loser in this tale.

Except for Tebow.

And while Luck's story may be just beginning, what Peyton Manning showed us in 2012 is that his own is far from over.

Peyton Manning (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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