Shanahan: "Peyton would have been a great coup for us."
As we wrap up Peyton Manning week here at SI.com, we pay homage to Manning through the eyes of Mike Shanahan, who has been his friend, was a competitor and almost wound up being his head coach with the Washington Redskins.
The two-time Super Bowl Champion head coach back in his days with the Denver Broncos has seen Manning at his best. Probably too often.
The fall of the Shanahan reign a mile high happened partially because Manning and the Colts paved the way. That eventually led to Shanahan coaching the Redskins, where the two almost danced together when Manning became a free agent.
But first, the history between the two.
January 4th, 2004 - the first playoff meeting between the Colts led (and coached on offense) by Manning against Shanahan's Broncos. The game ended as a 41-10 annihilation of Denver by Manning and Indianapolis.
Manning completed nearly 85% of his passes that day for a cool 377 yards, five touchdowns and his first career playoff win.
A little more than a year later, Manning and the Colts thumped Shanahan's Broncos again in the same setting, 49-24.
In this game, Manning completed almost 82% of his passes, he threw for 458 yards and had four touchdown passes plus, for good measure, a rushing score.
Back to back playoff beatdowns led to 2006 and the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, which was the only time Shanahan was the head coach of the annual all-star game.
Manning, who would win his first Super Bowl a year later, started the game for Shanahan and the AFC squad and threw a touchdown pass and couple of interceptions.
It wasn't what Manning did in that game that stood out to Shanahan. It was what he did during that week.
"Peyton, the one thing you got to know about him at the Pro Bowl, is that he would sit at the pool and talk football every day instead of playing golf," Shanahan said via phone on Thursday to RedskinsReport.com.
"He was just consumed with the game," Shanahan said. "He was a coach on the field. He never quit doing that. He wanted to know every detail about everything. You weren't talking to your average player. He wanted to know inside and out."
Shanahan said Manning would do this with more coaches besides just him. "He'd get as much as he could get from you. He had a plan in mind."
In 2012, after missing the entire 2011 season and with his career in doubt, Manning became a free agent for the first time in his career when the Colts officially released him in early March.
The decision was largely known for weeks, but it was still jarring when it became official.
Plenty of speculation was flying around as to where Manning would land. Washington was one of the teams mentioned.
At the time, I was working with the Redskins Radio Network and embedded at Redskins Park. I was told by two sources that Manning would prefer not to play in the NFC East because that would mean battling brother, Eli, twice per year and really all year long for a division title.
Albert Breer mentioned earlier this week something similar and also said he heard the Jets were also essentially ruled out because that would mean Manning vs. Manning in the Big Apple and for the back pages of the Daily News and more.
A day after my report came out, the Redskins agreed to make a trade with the then St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall pick, which would turn out to be Robert Griffin III.
Shanahan liked Griffin as a talent but knew he had a very long way to go to develop as a passing quarterback. He was in year three of his rebuild and didn't have three or four years for a raw talent to grow, if Griffin even could.
One thing you know when you work around the Redskins is that they don't make decisions that always make sense. The deal to move up to No. 2 made little common sense as I consistently pointed out, because of the bounty they paid and the questions surrounding Griffin.
The signs were all there, but as usual, fans and media bought in hook, line and sinker.
I was fooled by the Donovan McNabb acquisition in 2010 and that led to a lot of doubts when the Redskins took the plunge on the Griffin deal. I suspected Dan Snyder & Bruce Allen, were driving the trade for business reasons.
That trade ruined any realistic chance of Manning coming to Washington and he was reportedly stunned when informed of the deal by Denver executive and legend John Elway, as reported by Peter King.
Everyone was shocked because of the sheer magnitude of the trade. The way King's report was spun by the masses was that Manning essentially had his heart set on Washington, which was counter to what I had been told.
"Peyton would have been a great coup for us," Shanahan said. He was right. As he almost always was.
Shanahan and Manning still met at the Redskins head coach's mansion in Denver after that trade. "It was evident to Peyton that we were going to make that pick," Shanahan recalled (meaning for a quarterback).
"I asked him to stop by the house just to talk football for a few hours." Manning did.
The two had immense mutual respect for each other, but knew that a marriage was not in the cards because of what had already been decided.
Could you imagine what would have happened and how it would have changed history for so many?
If the deal wasn't made for the No. 2 pick, Manning could have been a member of the Redskins, assuming he did want to play in the nation's capital as the King report suggested.
There was significant doubt about what level Manning would return to in the NFL.
I fully believe that they would have drafted a young quarterback either way. Manning was a huge question mark.
Shanahan loved Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and had a third-round grade on him, with Michigan State's Kirk Cousins having a fourth-round grade. Shanahan and the Redskins staff got to be around both quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl that year, when they coached Wilson's squad.
Shanahan said, "You can see we need another quarterback, because at that time, I'm not sure if he's (Griffin) a drop back guy."
Shanahan wasn't wrong.
If things would have worked out Shanahan's way, Manning would have been his starting quarterback going into a critical year number three under Snyder and Allen.
The new regime had only won 11 games out of 32 in the first two years and had to start chopping significant wood.
Get Manning and all of a sudden things would be different. Draft Wilson as a developmental starter in case things didn't work out.
Instead the Redskins wound up with Griffin (at an enormous cost) and Cousins at a bargain basement price. I think you know how that turned out.
In early 2014, with Shanahan already gone, Wilson and Manning would meet in the Super Bowl in New Jersey as the Seattle Seahawks drilled the Manning-led Broncos.
Think about that, Redskins fans. It hurts. It's part of the reason why it's been so long since greatness filled the air at Redskins Park.
When I pointed that dream scenario out in a blog, that stung Griffin. He told me that it did.
Manning went on to choose Shanahan's former organization and replaced Tim Tebow, another quarterback who many were fooled by.
The two-time championship head coach sensed that "Tebow-Mania" was dead and "exactly what I thought would happen," then happened.
Shanahan might have mentioned 15 or so times (over a half hour phone call) the immense respect he has for Manning, largely because he was "running his offense" in both Indianapolis and Denver.
"He knew it (the offensive system) better than coaches. People didn't know how good he was."
Shanahan didn't secure Manning in Washington despite his desire to do so, but the next best thing happened. He secured him as a tenant.
Manning actually lived in Shanahan's mansion while settling down in the Denver area, with the former Redskins and Broncos head coach saying they "had a great relationship."
Shanahan was just one of Manning's obstacles on the field. Manning's greatest foe, Tom Brady, is still going at it with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after also becoming a free agent for the first time. On the eve of one last dance for Manning and Brady competing Sunday on the golf course with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, I asked Shanahan for his thoughts on which quarterback truly was better.
"I admire the heck out of Tom," Shanahan answered. However, while he pointed out that he never really spent a significant amount of time around Brady, what Manning did as a quarterback and coach was impossible to ignore. "He called the plays. During the week he had all the control. He operated the no huddle, made all the calls at the line of scrimmage, knew all of the coverages and concepts."
It sounded an awful lot like Shanahan would choose Manning over Brady and his reasoning was certainly solid.
On Sunday, he'll watch the two competitors go at it again for charity.
I think you know which way Shanahan is leaning.
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**A special thanks to Alain Poupart for helping with this feature. He does excellent work at AllDolphins, part of SI.com.
Chris Russell is the Publisher of RedskinsReport.com & Sports Illustrated's Washington Redskins channel. He can be heard on 106.7 The FAN in the Washington D.C. area and world-wide on Radio.com. Chris also hosts the "Locked on Redskins" Podcast and can be read via subscription to Warpath Magazine. You can e-mail Chris at russellmania09@Gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @Russellmania621.