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PEYTON MANNING'S LONG GAME
PETER KING
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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Dungy could sense that Manning was leaning toward Denver. "He felt good about Elway, about Mr. Bowlen, about Fox, about the offensive coordinator," Dungy said. "And I think he just wanted confirmation that he wasn't making a mistake."

Look at the teams that fell short, and you see familiar faces. Manning's dad, Archie, played with Munchak late in his career in Houston. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is a golfing buddy of Manning's and once coached Peyton at the Pro Bowl. Harbaugh preceded Manning as quarterback in Indianapolis. The point men for all were former players.

Look at the teams that wanted in but were cut out. Kansas City: Manning knows G.M. Scott Pioli but isn't close to anyone there. Seattle: no strong relationships. The Jets and Miami: ditto. Washington was a little different because Manning knows and respects Mike Shanahan, but the draft deal with the Rams ended that.

On Sunday, Manning knew he was choosing Denver. On Monday he made the phone calls. "I wish I hadn't gotten so close to Munch," Manning said. "That was a tough call. Same with Jim Harbaugh." When he called Elway to tell him the good news, Elway and Fox were discussing whether to make one final push for Manning. Elway answered the phone and gave Fox a thumbs-up. "I almost pulled both hamstrings," Fox said.

On Tuesday, Manning met the press at the Broncos' facility in Englewood and held up his new orange number 18 jersey. When he finished almost three hours later, he walked down the stairs and into the locker room, put on Broncos shorts and a Broncos T-shirt and began working out. He followed that routine for the next three days.

Now it was Sunday night, in Palm Beach, Fla., at the league meetings, and Elway was trying to process it all. He'd just pulled off his biggest win since his last game in a Denver uniform, the Super Bowl XXXIII victory over the Falcons. Why did Manning pick Denver?

"I really don't know," Elway said. "I never asked him. I never asked him who was in it or where we ranked. I just know if I was in his shoes, I'd know how I'd want to be treated. And that's how I tried to treat Peyton."

It worked.

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