Commentary

What becomes a legend most?

Updated: March 21, 2012, 2:47 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

John ElwayAP Photo/Joe MahoneyBy landing Peyton Manning as his quarterback, Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway has shown he's as good in a business suit as he was in a uniform.
At a Super Bowl dinner this year, I couldn't help but ask John Elway why he'd never done The Tebow, the one-knee mini-prayer popularized worldwide by his quarterback.

Elway is fairly religious, so he thought about it and then said, "How about this? I'll Tebow when he wins us a championship."

Add that to your list of Things You'll Never See. Right below "Lenny Dykstra, president of the United States."

Tebow is trade meat this morning after Elway used a combination of stones, guile, risk, friendship and legend to land the biggest free-agent whale in NFL history: Peyton Manning.

Manning, of course, has no business picking Denver. Cold-weather town? Green receivers? Thin backfield? Tennessee made much more sense (disregard all previous dispatches).

The reason Manning is about to become a Bronco has everything to do with one man, Elway.

This was all about Elway and what he wants and what he doesn't want. What he wants, like he wants his next breath, is a Super Bowl win as an executive. What he doesn't want is Tim Tebow.

It's not that he didn't like Tebow as a person. It's that he was frustrated with Tebow's inability to get the precise synchronization of the three- and five-step NFL drops. It's NFL Quarterbacking 101. Most guys get the knack of it in college. But with Tebow, like with really good Teflon, it never quite stuck.

Elway was also frustrated with all the dirt balls and air balls and screwballs Tebow scattered to the wind. He was frustrated that Tebow would play like Joan Rivers for three quarters and like Philip Rivers in the fourth. He was puzzled by Tebow's stats. The kid didn't even complete 48 percent of his throws. Peyton Manning completes 65 percent of his.

It's sad that the city of Denver will be losing a man as giving and selfless as Tebow, who spent more time in Denver hospitals than the Vicodin rep. Then again, Denver is getting a man who has a children's hospital in Indianapolis named after him.

Wanting Manning over Tebow is like wanting a Rolls over a Rolaids.

Into all this stepped a four-time NFL MVP, suddenly single and looking for a mate. Elway saw his exit ramp and floored it. And why wouldn't he?

Consider: If Elway jettisons Tebow for Manning, not even the most devoted Christian Broncos fan would smite him. A top-five-all-time QB for a kid who might solve it one day. And even if Manning's neck melts and his grip slips, Elway won't be blamed for trying. He'll start over without Tebow, which is what he wanted in the first place.

Better yet, Elway comes off as the good guy by trading him and not cubbyholing him. The kid proved he deserves a chance in this league, and he'll get it somewhere else now.

Somewhere else should be Jacksonville. If you're the new owner of a franchise that has to tarp over nearly 10,000 of its seats just to skirt the home-game blackout laws, you get Tebow yesterday and announce him as your starter today. And anybody who bitches about it in the coaches' offices gets a stack of bills to pay.

It's sad that the city of Denver will be losing a man as giving and selfless as Tebow, who spent more time in Denver hospitals than the Vicodin rep. Then again, Denver is getting a man who has a children's hospital in Indianapolis named after him.

Better yet, Manning wants Elway. Wants to be around him, learn from him, work with him. Manning grew up idolizing Elway. He was 10 when Elway started going to Super Bowls. He was drafted the year Elway won his first one. They've played golf together, had dinner, shot the breeze 100 times. As Manning approaches his 36th birthday on Saturday, Elway has grown even larger in his mind. Elway won two Super Bowls after 37. For Manning, he'll be a human shaving-mirror note: You Can Do This!

Sure, it helped that two of Manning's best friends love living in Denver -- Colorado Rockies 1B Todd Helton (a former University of Tennessee teammate) and former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley (a former Colts teammate who put Manning up at his house when he visited Denver).

And it helped that the Broncos have the national budget of Peru to spend on free agents this year (nearly $45 million), which could bring Manning's favorite teammate ever, center Jeff Saturday, not to mention, if all the planets align, Pittsburgh super-wideout Mike Wallace. And it helped that Denver has a bright, young thing in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. And a head coach, John Fox, who's as flexible as your favorite slippers.

But mostly, this was about Elway. It's one of the most startling achievements of his life. A team that started at the back of this chase has now won it. Who else would you want directing your comeback try?

The poor Colts. Elway broke their hearts in 1983. Now he's stealing their heart, Manning. Add Indianapolis to Cleveland as a city he can never go to again.

All of which makes me wonder. There is still no statue of John Elway in Denver. When they carve it, should he be carrying a football or a briefcase?

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com