Introducing An Alternate History: Peyton Manning Declares In 1997

Today, we know Peyton Manning as the player who was key in four years of Broncos excellence, culminating in a Super Bowl victory, as well as two AFC Championships and four 12+ win seasons.  We also know that he served 14 years of excellence beforehand in Indianapolis, also leading the Colts to a Super Bowl and two AFC Championships, as well as only suffering two non-playoff seasons when he was able to play the entire season.

This illustrious career ended last February, and started in 1998, after he had finished a full college career at the University of Tennessee.  But in 1997, he faced a difficult decision, one in which he could have left the Volunteers to enter the NFL Draft early.  As you know, he declined that opportunity.  But if he didn’t, the face of NFL history could have been greatly changed.

Therefore, to help pass away the boring month of June by NFL standards, I will be contributing a work of fiction (in the style of alternate history) that poses a simple question with a complex answer: what if Peyton Manning had declared for the 1997 NFL Draft?

Here’s the plan for the release of this fiction over the coming days and weeks:

  • Starting next Tuesday, I will be posting, in chronological order, one NFL season on each business day until Peyton Manning’s career on this alternate timeline is over.
  • Each year will consist of four sections: coaching and management changes, the NFL Draft, the regular season, and the playoffs.  Most of what’s written will be a series of facts–in fact, for the regular season all you will see are the win-loss records and the seeding of the playoff teams.  It was incredibly difficult enough to write game details for playoff games, so there was no way I was going to write anything in-depth on more than 11 games per season.
  • I will try to be specific on key players that ended up on different teams at different parts of their careers.  If I omit a mention of a certain player, this means one of two things: either assume he’s on the team (or coaching/management staff) he was with in real life; or he is a player that has yet to become known to the general populace at that point in the alternate timeline–at times I may be deliberately ambiguous for purposes of suspense.
  • And on that note, there will be many arcs that won’t change–not just players but also a few games, and even a few entire teams.  (Sorry Browns, you’re still going to suck in the same way you have in real life.)  It was difficult enough to make the historical changes that I made for the certain players and teams I focused on. For the most part, players that were drafted after the 1st and 2nd rounds are probably (but not always) going to end up where they actually did, as there are fewer overlaps on draft boards in later rounds.
  • I am trying hard to make this an entertaining alternate history.  For example, you may see some events that mimic what happened in real life, but with a fun twist to them.
  • But at the same time, I’m also trying to keep this fairly realistic. (No, the Broncos won’t be winning 10 Super Bowls in this story.) I will be using my knowledge of NFL history to connect certain players with certain coaches and GMs, though they may be on different teams.  I can’t guarantee that there won’t be something outlandish, but I’m hoping to minimize it.

I’m posting this introduction today, so that all of you will have the Memorial Day weekend to think over where you think what roads Peyton Manning, and the NFL, will end up going down–for better or worse.  Feel free to take some guesses in the comments section before I start on next Tuesday!