“I think the most important thing for me was, OK, Peyton’s here, now we’ve got to win some football games,” Elway said. “Because I think everybody was excited about him being here, but we have to win some football games.”
Despite the injury history, despite the questions, Elway makes it clear that it was “an easy decision for us.” The team didn’t feel it was going out on a limb, even as it shed a quarterback in Tebow who had led the team to a first-round postseason win over the Steelers.
The Broncos — from owner Pat Bowlen and Elway on down — thought it was the right direction for the franchise, to get it back to the heights it had experienced back when Elway was leading the charge. Still, there were no guarantees that Peyton would be Peyton — and the concerns were exacerbated in Week 2 by three interceptions in the first half against the Falcons, by a few passes that fluttered.
“I think there’s always a risk,” Elway said. “You never knew exactly how, physically, he was going to respond. But any time you make a decision, there’s a calculated risk with it. It was a risk that we were willing to take.”
Or, as team president Joe Ellis put it, “I wouldn’t call it risky. I would call it smart.”
A lot is expected
Admittedly, the Manning-Denver marriage is not destined to be a long one.
Manning, after all, is 36 years old and in his 15th season in the NFL. But he believes there is more football to be played, more titles to be won.
If anyone can understand that, it’s his boss. Elway, after all, won his Super Bowls in the final two seasons of his career, when he was 37 and 38.
“Obviously, physically you can’t do what you used to do in your mid-20s compared to your mid-30s,” Elway said. “There’s a physical balance that’s not quite the same.
“But the years of experience over the 10 years more than compensate for any type of loss of physical ability that you may have. And so I think mentally you overcome that.
“But whether you’re 25 or 35, to win the world championship, you have to have a good football team.”
That was what Elway tried to create, with Manning and for Manning.
There is talk of a “different breed of guys,” as cornerback Champ Bailey put it, different from the ones that ended the 2011 season in New England by not putting forth their best effort.
Now, they want to do more. They want to be more. They see a player with the ability to “elevate everybody in your organization and elevate the stature of your organization,” as Ellis said.
So they watch as Manning clicks the remote in film sessions. They listen to him talking through footwork after throws in practice. And they take notes, scribbling down his words on lines that will be referenced for years.
“It’s just a couple right now,” Osweiler said, of how many notebooks he has already gone through. “It’s early in the season. But the pages are filling up.”