ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was the ultimate football called shot.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen stepped away from the day-to-day operations in 2014. But in one of his last public appearances in March 2012, Bowlen stepped to the podium at the team’s suburban Denver complex and introduced Peyton Manning as Broncos quarterback.
“Our goal has always been to win Super Bowls; Peyton gives us a chance to win another world championship,” Bowlen said at the time. “I’m thrilled he has decided to become a Denver Bronco. This is a great day for me, personally, and for our organization, our city and our fans.”
Four seasons later, Manning will call it a career just before his 40th birthday. Manning will announce his retirement during a news conference Monday at the Broncos' headquarters, a source familiar with the quarterback's decision told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. With 50 regular-season victories, 140 regular-season touchdown passes, two Super Bowl trips and a championship, it has been a great ride for the team, city and fans.
It was a risk that brought the ultimate football reward with the franchise’s third Lombardi Trophy. Fourteen of Manning’s seasons in the NFL were with the Indianapolis Colts and he is a remember-when athlete in that city, the guy who got a sparkling stadium built on the edge of downtown and inspired the NFL to play the Super Bowl in it.
Manning’s tenure in Denver (four seasons) represented 22 percent of his career. He was not at his physical best when he arrived following four neck surgeries, the fourth a spinal fusion. His arm wasn’t what it had been in his elite run with the Colts.
In fact, Manning himself, in what was the most concise description of his arm strength following fusion surgery, said in the days before the Broncos’ win in Super Bowl 50 that he was forced to make adjustments to his game.
“My arm is what it is,” Manning said. “Honestly, my having a little time off to heal my foot helped some of the other parts. ... My arm feels OK. My arm has not been the same since I was injured four years ago. ... If I could throw left-handed it would be a lot easier. ... It’s just different than it was. ... It’s got a few yards on it, miles on it, however you want to say it.”
But football’s beautiful mind worked just fine even with three different offensive coordinators (Mike McCoy, Adam Gase and Rick Dennison) and two different head coaches (John Fox and Gary Kubiak). Fox and Kubiak ran two vastly different offensive schemes, but Manning simply powered the Broncos to win after win.
Even during the frustrations of the 2015 season, which included his left foot injury that cost him seven starts and an Al Jazeera America report that alleged his wife received shipments of human growth hormone (HGH) -- a report Manning called “garbage” -- he evolved on the field again.
Always the leading man whose name was in the biggest letters on the marquee, Manning was suddenly in the supporting cast. Instead he had the league’s best defense -- maybe the best defense the franchise has ever fielded -- leading the way to a championship.
When the Broncos’ decision-makers traveled to Duke University in 2012 to see Manning work out, he wasn’t ready to play in a game. He had, after all, spent the 2011 season healing from neck surgery. But the Broncos’ medical staff gave a thumbs-up, Manning was willing to sign a contract that protected the team if the neck injury prevented him from playing, and John Elway went all-in.
Elway, as the Broncos’ chief decision-maker, even dropped the “no Plan B” line, letting everyone know he had full faith in Manning. And the Broncos went about the business of winning games, divisions and ultimately a Super Bowl.
The Broncos were right to take a chance on a surgically repaired legend whose future carried a significant question mark. And Manning was right as well to pick the Broncos from among the other suitors he had in his only career trip into free agency.
Because in the end, Elway did do as promised -- “everything” in his power to build a championship team around Manning. And even though it may not have been the team either expected, it ended with Manning lifting a trophy and Bowlen playing a part in the Broncos' latest championship.
And that is one of the great win-win deals of all time.