Admit it: You all knew it was coming.
The signs all pointed to Peyton Manning calling it a career. Sure, you might have heard the rumblings that he wanted to keep playing, but that’s typical of people who are about to leave a job they truly love, regardless of the reasons they may be about to leave.
But after four straight AFC West titles, two AFC titles and one Super Bowl win, along with a record-setting 2013 season and the passing records all claimed, there was nothing more for Peyton Manning to prove.
Not as a member of the Broncos. Not as a member of any other team.
Of course, Peyton’s career spans more than just his time with the Broncos. But the day the Indianapolis Colts decided to release him was the day the wheels were set in motion for him to come to Denver.
We just didn’t know it at the time, though. We thought that maybe Tim Tebow would sit down and work with John Elway on improving as a quarterback, or maybe that the Broncos would draft a quarterback early, even if they weren’t in position to draft Andrew Luck.
Instead, the Broncos started courting Peyton, and although rumblings went up that the 49ers, the Titans or the Cardinals would land him (and so many pundits were convinced San Francisco was where he’d go), the Broncos got him.
Peyton’s arrival helped accelerate the timetable for Elway and his staff to rebuild the Broncos. He already had Von Miller and Orlando Franklin drafted, with Julius Thomas being developed and Chris Harris emerging. Then along came Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez, Sylvester Williams, CJ Anderson, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Bradley Roby, Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon Marshall… the list of quality draft picks, undrafted rookies, free agents and under-the-radar waiver claims grew with each season.
And it led to the Broncos rising back to the top of the AFC West and become a constant threat to making a deep playoff run.
Of course, the years Peyton spent with the team started taking their toll. He played the bulk of that record-setting 2013 season with a high ankle sprain. He finished the 2014 season with a torn quad. Add in the natural decline every player experiences toward the end of his career and it became clearer that time was running out for him, particularly after he was diagnosed with plantar facistis in his foot.
In 2013, it was Peyton dragging a banged-up Broncos squad into the Super Bowl thanks to his best season ever as a pro. In 2015, the Broncos returned the favor, dragging a banged-up Peyton into the Super Bowl, thanks to the best defense the Broncos ever had.
Even so, it’s only natural that somebody who loves their job doesn’t want to call it a career, no matter what others say. That’s especially true when you make big money doing what you love. Some players may be getting out of the NFL at an early age, but that doesn’t make it an easy decision for every player.
It’s been a fun four years watching Peyton play for the Broncos, even if not everything was perfect. I’ll miss watching him play, but I’ll smile when I look back on the memories he gave us Bronco fans.