Denver's Brock Osweiler versus Peyton Manning of Tennessee. How would that quarterback matchup end for the Broncos? My guess: Titans 30, Broncos 17.
Facing the toughest decision of his professional career after being cut by the Indianapolis Colts, Manning retreated in March 2012 to his vacation home in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Titans, along with the Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, were among the suitors for the most decorated free agent in NFL history.
The quarterback is a loyal alumnus of the University of Tennessee. Ashley Manning, the NFL star's wife, is from Memphis, Tenn.
The governor lobbied and the state legislature passed a resolution urging Manning to come back and finish his football career in Tennessee. Then, at 9:30 on a Monday morning, with Manning's feet planted in Tennessee, he rang the phone of Broncos executive John Elway.
“What did make me a little nervous was what Peyton said when he first got on the phone,” recalled Broncos coach John Fox, who anxiously paced the floor in Elway's office when Manning called. “I could hear just enough of his conversation with John to know Peyton was saying, 'Well, I'm calling all the teams this morning that I'm not going to play for, and this has been really hard ...' ”
“There for a second, it sounded like Peyton was telling us: 'You have a great personality, but I'm going on a date with somebody else,' ” Fox said.
In the end, Manning picked the Broncos.
The center of the NFL universe is Denver, not Nashville.
But was it an easy choice? No. Manning analyzes every aspect of football to the nth degree.
Why did he get away from it all in Tennessee to weigh the pros and cons of where Manning would make his final attempts at winning the Super Bowl?
“I found a little haven there in Tennessee, not in Nashville, that gave me a little time for some peace and a little time to think a little bit,” said Manning, admitting there was a part of him that wanted to play for the Titans, the Niners and every team he considered during the recruiting process.
He retreated within a small circle of trust to keep any ambivalence and all his anxiety over his decision a secret.
“Certainly Ashley and I had a lot of talks about it. It was going to be a big impact on her and our family, as well. You talk to your parents. Obviously (agent) Tom Condon. ... It wasn't a huge network, by any means. You got to be pretty careful who you share something with if you want it to truly remain (a secret),” Manning said Wednesday.
“I went through that process. I wish I probably had a little more time to do it. You felt a little bit squeezed by the teams. I really didn't like having some teams kind of in limbo based on what I was doing. I did not enjoy that, with the draft coming up and teams having decisions. It was not so private. It was very public, and it was definitely kind of a load lifted off your shoulders once you could pick one place.”
Had Manning picked Tennessee over Denver, the Broncos would have been stuck with Tim Tebow, a quarterback who was immensely popular everywhere in Colorado except the executive offices of the local NFL team.
Among quarterbacks entering the 2012 draft, the Broncos liked Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who went No. 22 in the opening round to the Cleveland Browns. The Broncos liked Russell Wilson, but could not get past how he couldn't even pretend to be 6 feet tall. The Broncos liked Nick Foles, until a college game when he threw an interception for Arizona and seemed disinterested in making a tackle to stop the damage from his turnover.
So, if Manning had gone to the Titans, there's a very real possibility his counterpart at quarterback this week in Denver would have been Osweiler.
No disrespect to Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, but without Manning, it's hard to envision the Broncos being a winning team. Without Manning, does Wes Welker choose to play in Denver? Is Fox a coach on the hot seat?
“I always felt good about (Manning) coming to Denver, because I felt it was a good fit. I felt like we had good eggs in the basket,” Fox said. “But, like any of those decisions with human beings, you just never know for sure until he called.”
What's the difference between being the favorite to win the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs and being a 5-7 team that must pray for a miracle to sneak in the postseason?
And one phone call placed to Denver, from Tennessee.