By Peter King
March 20, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Looking drained and sounding tired, Peyton Manning stood outside the Denver Broncos team meeting room Tuesday afternoon -- the room where he'd just been introduced as the Broncos quarterback by an elated John Elway --and Manning tried to explain why he picked Denver to play the rest of his career with, however long that may be.

He couldn't.

"People want to know the reason,'' Manning said, searching for one, almost grimacing trying to explain himself. "There really isn't one. I could have pictured myself on any of those other teams. But what it came down to is, this just fit. It felt right.''

Manning carried his new jersey in his hands. It's orange, bright orange. With the number 18. It's going to take some getting used to, seeing Manning in Broncos orange after a career in Colts blue. This whole scene is going to take some getting used to: Manning trying to win a Super Bowl with a team other than Indianapolis, Elway contending for 2012 Executive of the Year, Tim Tebow trying to make magic somewhere else.

In an extraordinary 55 minutes, Denver owner Pat Bowlen and club president Elway (now a contender to be the second-best quarterback ever to play for this franchise) and then Manning explained how, in the span of 12 days, he came to think Denver was a better place for him. Better than all the other teams he spent time with -- San Francisco, Tennessee, Arizona and Miami -- and the teams that wanted him but he didn't want, Kansas City and Seattle. It's clear Manning made a leap of faith that Elway can build the kind of team around him to contend for a Super Bowl every year he plays.

And Manning said his intention was to play "for a long time,'' though he put no timetable on how many years that is. Manning turns 36 Saturday. He's had four neck procedures in the last two years. But Elway said a team physical and thorough examination of Manning's medical records left him with "no doubt'' Manning will be healthy enough to play into the future. "I don't consider it much of a risk,'' said Elway.

"He's a guy who raises all boats,'' said an ebullient Elway, who's been on the job only 15 months. "My goal is to make Peyton Manning the greatest quarterback ever to play the game.''

Elway's presence certainly helped, but after the press conference, Manning made it clear the Denver exec was a contributing factor and not the only one.

"Any place I picked I could have been comfortable with,'' Manning told me. "In the end, it was kind of like college, with all those teams I was talking to. So many great possibilities -- Ole Miss, Michigan, others. But Tennessee was right for me; a lot of places I think could have been right. That's why in so many ways the draft is so great in the NFL. It takes the choice out of your hands. But now, here, it's up to me and the people around me to make this the right decision.''

The decision, he said, was reached Sunday after conversations with several close friends and his father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning. "Nobody wanted to tell me what to do,'' he said. And then he said he wanted to sleep on it. When he woke up Monday morning, he felt the same way: Denver was the place. He called Tennessee coach Mike Munchak -- you could see, talking to Manning, that the Munchak phone call hurt because of the respect he has for him -- and then Titans owner Bud Adams. And he called San Francisco GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh.

He called Elway next. And that was the strangest call, because at that moment Monday morning, Elway and coach John Fox were meeting to discuss, among other things, how to proceed on Manning. Should they call him again? "Should we give him one last sales pitch?'' Fox asked Elway. And soon after that, Elway's phone rang. He looked down at the screen on his phone and saw it was Manning.

"I think we both froze,'' Elway said.

Manning said he'd been on the phone notifying the teams who were out of it that he was playing elsewhere. Elway, for a second, thought, I wonder what phone call we are? And then Manning said, "I want to come play for the Denver Broncos.'' Elway gave Fox the thumbs-up sign.

"I almost pulled both hamstrings,'' Fox said.

Three points from the press conference:

He made the decision without regard to money, because wherever he went, the money was going to be there. At one point on his tour of teams in Denver and Arizona, Manning said he didn't talk to his long-time agent and confidant, Tom Condon, for four days. That's because he didn't want to confuse football with business. It was clear whichever team he chose was going to pay him something like what Denver ended up paying him ($18 million in year one, and then an average of $18 million a year after taking an offseason physical to activate the next year of his contract).

Manning said he never got a true "lifetime job offer'' from Tennessee owner Bud Adams. "Nah,'' he said. "It never came to that.'' Adams was public in saying he wanted Manning to play as long as he wanted for the Titans, and then after that take a job in the administration or ownership. Adams cannot by NFL rule promise anything about employment other than what is written in the player contract. And Manning said he never did.

Trading Tim Tebow, Elway said, "is a possibility.'' That's understating it. It appears to be a certainty, and a source with knowledge of Denver's plans said the work to try to move last year's miracle man could commence as early as Tuesday night. Denver won't find an active market, but the Broncos may be able to get a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round pick, the difficulty being everyone in the league knows the Broncos want to move the charismatic, popular and inaccurate Tebow. "That's the toughest part of this, the personal side,'' said Elway. He and Fox called Tebow Monday night to tell him about Manning's arrival. "If I wanted one man to marry my daughter, it'd be Tim. But without a doubt in my mind, this is the best decision for the Denver Broncos.''

Manning said he was going to stay in Denver for the next five days, to get used to the facility and to meet the medical staff and plot the continuation of his rehab from neck surgery last September.

"We're not selling tickets for New Orleans,'' the site of the Super Bowl next February, Elway said. "We're selling tickets for our first preseason game. I've talked to Peyton about this -- the work's just beginning.''

For Manning, the work will be a relief. He's always liked the work. Whittling down the teams in this process -- that was hard labor.

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