By Keith Antigiovanni
This week marks the end of the offseason sports opera known as the Denver Broncos when NFL great and future Hall of Famer quarterback Peyton Manning signed a five-year contract to play for the Broncos after the Indianapolis Colts released him two weeks ago and the end of "Tebow Time" in Denver with the trade of Tebow to the AFC rival New York Jets for a 4th and 6th round draft picks.
After pulling out numerous late game comebacks as Broncos' quarterback throughout the 1980's and 1990's current Broncos' Vice President of Football Operations John Elway may have pulled off his best comeback yet for the franchise in 2011 by winning the AFC West championship.
Elway's decision-making since he was hired by owner Pat Bowlen last February was to fix the mess that Bowlen made when he hired Josh McDaniels to be his Head Coach in 2009. McDaniels alienated his starting quarterback Jay Cutler a few months into his tenure and then traded him to Chicago for Kyle Orton. McDaniels began 2009 at 6-0 but only finished at 8-8 then was fired after a 3-10 start in 2010 and allegations of cheating surfaced.
Going into 2010, McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow to be his future quarterback but with Orton's struggles in late 2009, 2010 and early 2011 along with mounting pressure from the fans Elway and first year Head Coach John Fox were forced him to bench him and insert second-year player Tim Tebow.
Tebow's stats were awful in 2011 but he led his team to a 7-5 record, AFC West title and a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs until it all fell apart the following week in Foxboro against the New England Patriots. It was obvious to Elway and Bronco Nation that in order for the Broncos to become a serious contender in the AFC that Tebow would need to make incredible strides in the offseason or they would need a new signal-caller.
Meanwhile in Indianapolis, the Colts decided to rebuild after the 2-14 season and then decided to release their great quarterback Peyton Manning two weeks ago because of the huge bonus owed to him if he stayed. That coupled with the Colts intention of drafting Andrew Luck as the first pick made it clear that a change would be coming. Elway saw an opportunity and swooped in immediately to get him as half a dozen teams lined up to have a chance to get Manning's services.
Elway's perspective on Manning's situation is clear since both men are NFL legends and Elway was still trying to prove himself at this stage of his career after failing to win a Super Bowl. Although Peyton has won a Super Bowl title he wants to win more and be considered the greatest quarterback ever. His statistics show that but his postseason record has not been impressive at 9-10.
Peyton's regular season success is almost unparalled with a 141-67 record as a starter and never missed a game between 1998 and 2011 but it has become more obvious that Manning's greatness along made Indianapolis into an NFL power in the 2000's. That is something John Elway can identify with as he led his undermanned Broncos to 3 Super Bowls in the 1980's but his greatness alone was not enough until he had a championship team around during the Broncos 1997/1998 Super Bowl title runs. Peyton was the key player in Indy's 2 Super Bowl appearances (2006, 2009) and 1 championship (2006).
When Elway was asked what is his Plan B if Peyton cannot overcome his previous injury he responded with "We dont have Plan B, We're Going with Plan A!" Its Peyton or bust for the Broncos but if he can return to his previous form the Broncos will be a serious Super Bowl contender over the next few years which is a far cry from the McDaniels years of 2009-2010.