So here we sit. It’s been 295 days since Peyton signed a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos on March 20, 2012. Truth be told since he came into the league, he’s only reached the end of a season with the last team standing once, so I’ve spent 90% of his career not smiling at the end of a season. But something funny happened on Saturday night despite my “shout heard round the world” when Jacoby Jones scored on a 70 yard TD pass to send the game into overtime for an eventual loss to the Ravens. (Seriously, if you didn’t hear me scream, you should get your hearing checked.) I smiled…at the end of a season that didn’t include Peyton’s team raising the Lombardi trophy…I smiled. Why was I so “ok” with it? Why was I, dare I say, happy? And then it hit me…at some point between last season’s sadness and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, I re-evaluated how I view the end of a season.
And it turns out Peyton felt the same way:
“When you take a year off from football, you come back for all the enjoyable moments,” Manning said. “When you’re not playing, you miss out on all the highs, but you also miss these disappointments. But I would rather be in the arena to be excited or be disappointed than not have a chance at all. That’s football. That’s why everybody plays it. You have to be able to take the good with the bad.”
“You can’t do it right away, but as the sun continues to shine every morning you do take some time to reflect on some good things that happened this year. It’s certainly not the finish that we wanted, but I think it’s a mistake if you don’t reflect on some of the good things.”
Ten months ago when the Colts decided they no longer needed his services, I absolutely was completely unsure if he would ever play football, again. It was an uphill battle for him to not only prove to NFL teams that he could still play the game, but convince them enough to invest a significant chunk of their salary cap in him. When he finally made his decision, he landed himself smack dab in the middle of Colorado with the Denver Broncos, a franchise I hadn’t necessarily been all that fond of in previous years, but I accepted it for two reasons: Peyton was satisfied with his choice and the Broncos WANTED him unlike his previous employer. Of course this didn’t stop me from cringing at the thought of him running out on that field and taking that first big hit. My hope ten months ago was that he would survive the season. My hope was that he would be given the opportunity to get his legs back under him and his arm back into the swing of things. I got a lot more than I hoped for or expected.
I got Eric Decker, Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Elvis Dumervil, Knowshon Moreno, Wesley Woodyard, Joel Dreessen, Champ Bailey…just to name a few. I never expected to fall in a love with this team so quickly. I never expected to have so much fun watching them play. And somewhere along the way, I became a Broncos fan. Somewhere in the middle of a season I could’ve only dreamed of, I suddenly felt like Peyton had been a Bronco his entire career. The season felt more like they were out in the backyard just throwing the ball around. And I realized the reason I was having so much fun watching them play was because THEY were having fun playing. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the last time I saw Peyton have this much fun.
So here we are 10 months later. And of course I would have cherished a Super Bowl victory, but knowing where this all started and never expecting this team that entered week 6 with a 2-3 record and won their 1st of 11 straight games in incredible fashion, made the playoffs with 4 games left, and then ended up the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs, how in the world could I be anything but happy, thrilled, thankful, and excited…for the future.
If I can have this much fun as a rookie fan of the Broncos…I can’t wait to see what’s next. I couldn’t script Peyton’s twilight years in the NFL any better than this if I tried. He needed a place where the organization and fan base would let him be himself…where he could do everything in his power to reward them for their belief in him…where he could eventually sail off into the sunset on his terms and not the terms of some doctor’s scalpel…where he could get back to the pure joy of playing football…where he could have fun, fun, fun til daddy takes the t-bird away.