ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was, and still is, the called shot.
“I know this team, I know this place,’’ Smith said then. “I've played inside these walls, I've lived here. And after he plays for the Denver Broncos, it will be like he played here for years and years. People will be talking about how they remember Peyton Manning and what he did for the Broncos."
Three-plus seasons later, the Broncos are 7-0, one of four remaining undefeated teams in the NFL and on track for a fifth consecutive AFC West title. Manning will have been behind center for four of those and many around the team wonder not if, but when, he will be put into the team's Ring of Fame, when the waiting period for the honor -- five years -- could be the same as, or longer than, his time with the team.
The Broncos have been to the Super Bowl -- the franchise’s seventh trip -- and with Manning have won 13, 13 and 12 games before whatever becomes of the current season. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, who knows a thing or two about being the face of a franchise in the Mile High City, has always explained Manning’s signing as one “that raises all boats.’’
Sunday’s game in Indianapolis is against a Colts team that knocked the Broncos out of the postseason last January. But Manning still casts an enormous shadow in Indianapolis, where he was the centerpiece of the Colts for 12 seasons before the team released him and he signed with the Broncos.
“[Indianapolis] is a great city, great people, just like here in Denver -- great community,’’ Manning said this week. “They love their sports and the sports teams are a big part of the community. I've been real fortunate to play for two football teams and two cities in communities that are very connected. The Colts always did a great job serving the community there when I was there. They encouraged that. They emphasized that. ... It's the same way here in Denver. We've got a lot of guys doing a lot of great things in the community, as well. I've been real fortunate from that standpoint.’’
Away from football, Manning has made Denver, and Colorado, part of his off-the-field endeavors, with annual grants to wide a variety of charitable organizations. He’s been the keynote speaker at banquets, he’s made surprise appearances at schools and hospitals.
And for the passionate football souls in the Rocky Mountain region, he brought their beloved team back into the annual Super Bowl conversation, the place Elway once put it and the place owner Pat Bowlen always said it needed to be.
However or whenever Manning’s time as a Broncos player ends, there will have been many who spent more time in a Broncos uniform. But it’s unlikely many will have meant more to the organization.
“He’s Peyton Manning, man,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “He changed everything when he signed here. Champ [Bailey] always used to say a guy like Peyton means you’re not hoping to have a chance at the Super Bowl sometime, Champ said a guy like Peyton means you always have a chance at the Super Bowl and everybody knows it, players, fans, everybody.’’