Davis said the linemen have been energized by Manning's magisterial presence. "There's pride in blocking for him," he said, pretending not to notice the french fry whizzing past his noggin. "He's given all of us a little extra swag."
This extends to the defense, too. The Steelers held the ball for 35:05 on Sunday but scored only 19 points as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times, his passes repeatedly batted around by Broncos defensive backs. "When you have a quarterback like Peyton Manning, it brings a sense of urgency," says defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. "The guy is all about winning, for real, for real. So we all know it's time to take care of the things that need to be taken care of."
After all he's been through, Manning has no trouble leaning on a larger perspective. Asked about the mile-high expectations in Denver, he says, "I don't really carry that burden. I know how hard I've worked to get back to this position, how much time I've put into rehab, how much time I continue to put in. I'm gonna play as hard as I possibly can. That's all I know to do." He did allow on Sunday night that, "It's a special win, don't get me wrong. I'm grateful and definitely appreciative of the moment and opportunity."
His famous father, Archie, was even more effusive. In the Broncos' locker room the 63-year-old former quarterback doled out hugs to the training staff and got a little misty talking about bringing his grandchildren, Peyton's 18-month-old twins, Marshall and Mosley, to their first game. On his way to Denver, Archie had stopped in Indianapolis to deliver a speech supporting the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital. It was his first time back to Indy since his son's wrenching split with the Colts. "It was a funny feeling walking through the airport," says Archie. "It was kind of lonely. I was used to seeing number 18 being sold in every store. Now there's a lot of number 12s. I guess times change."
They do and they don't. Brandon Stokley spent four seasons as a Colt alongside Manning, and now that the pair have been reunited in Denver, Stokley has reclaimed the role of best friend and favorite third-down target. "I never doubted he would make it all the way back," says Stokely. "To me he's the same as he's always been."
And who, exactly, is that?
"The best to ever play the game."