When Peyton Manning became a free agent for the first time after the 2011 season, following 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, predictably, a frenzied recruitment process ensued as teams pursued his services.
As we know now, the Denver Broncos won the sweepstakes and would go to two Super Bowls with Manning as their quarterback, defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Peter King’s Sports Illustrated piece from April 2012, Peyton Manning’s Long Game, detailed exactly how the Broncos made their winning pitch.
The Broncos got the first meeting following Manning’s release from the Colts, who were ready to transition to Andrew Luck as their signal-caller. The two sides met at the team facility in Colorado. Then-head coach John Fox (now with the Chicago Bears) and general manager John Elway delivered their case.
From the SI Vault:
Fox had Broncos p.r. man Patrick Smyth address two elements he thought would be used against Denver in the bidding—that its defense would hurt Manning's chances of winning big and that Manning, who'd played his home games indoors since entering the league in 1998, would suffer outdoors in Denver. Smyth came up with two tidbits for Fox to use on Manning.
“Do you realize,” Fox asked the QB, “that the Broncos have played 519 home games, and the average temperature at kickoff has been 60.1 degrees?”
That was Manning's kind of stat. As was the next. "In your 14 years in Indianapolis," Fox said, "the Colts averaged 26 points per game. In my 10 years as a head coach [with the Panthers and the Broncos], when our teams scored 26 points or more, our record is 39-3."
Elway made another pitch at dinner later that night.
The Broncos had planned to host a dinner for Manning that Friday night, but how to do it quietly? To dodge the media, staffers prepared seven vehicles to leave the complex at the same time. A news crew from Fox affiliate KDVR-TV followed the van that had transported Manning from the airport. When it reached a seafood place, the crew went in and asked a Broncos employee, "Where's Manning?" Not here. He'd slipped into a black SUV with tinted windows, which had taken him to Cherry Hills Country Club. There he was ready to hear Elway's sales pitch.
Except Elway wasn't selling. When the Hall of Fame quarterback sat with Manning alone at the club, Elway saw a person "in shock" over being cut and imagined what it would have been like if the Broncos, for whom he played his entire career, had released him after 13 or 14 seasons. “There's got to be a dagger in your gut right now," Elway told Manning. "Take your time. Be thorough. Make the right decision, whether it's us or someone else.”
“I put myself in Peyton's shoes," Elway told SI on Sunday night. "No pressure. Don't give the hard sell. Let the organization speak for itself. I told him that as much as I wanted him to play for the Broncos, I knew it would be stupid if we forced him and it wasn't a good fit. That's how I'd feel.”
A week or so later, Manning made his choice. The results now speak for themselves.