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April 02, 2012
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
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April 02, 2012

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

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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.

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