Now that Peyton Manning has chosen the Denver Broncos as the franchise with which he will attempt to resurrect his NFL career, and with the Monday go-ahead of some people close to the quarterback, the story can be told.
In 2007, after a May minicamp workout at the Indianapolis Colts' facility, Manning visited at his locker stall with this reporter, and spent 20-25 minutes rehashing football at all levels of the game. During the chat, the always-curious Manning, a man who is obsessed with the game, asked about the future of John Fox in Carolina. When told that Fox might be in some jeopardy - he ultimately would last four more seasons with the Panthers before he was dismissed in 2011 - Manning kind of casually acknowledged, "You know, I could play for him."
Five years later, he will be.
OK, so Manning possesses a lot of qualities of calculation, but being able to look five years down the road and predict the future isn't one of them. At least we don't think so. After all, in 2007 Tony Dungy was still the Indianapolis head coach, the Colts were coming off a Super Bowl XLI victory and the team, even with the departure of both its starting cornerbacks, was incredibly stabile.
Still, as the Manning circus played out over the past three weeks, we couldn't help but reflect on that 2007 conversation. Fact is, we actually wrote about it a week ago, although we purposely fudged a few things, as we gingerly toed the line of ethics. But pondering the '07 conversation, we kind of knew Fox might provide the Broncos an edge, and attempted to hint as much, without destroying any confidences.
Make no mistake, the presence of executive vice president John Elway in the Denver front office was a trump card with which Manning's other suitors probably could not contend. But Fox was a difference-maker as well.
"Kind of an ace-in-the-hole, I guess you might say," characterized a source close to Manning after the four-time league most valuable player instructed agent Tom Condon to negotiate a contract with Broncos officials.
Other than the fact they both worked in the same league, there are no connections between Fox and Manning. While with the Colts, Manning faced the Fox-coached Panthers twice, losing in 2003 and winning in 2007. In 1999, he defeated a New York Giants' team for which Fox served as defensive coordinator.
None of the assistant coaches currently on the Denver staff has ever worked with Manning in the past.
Fox, 57, finished with a 9-9 record (including 1-1 in the playoffs) in his first season in Denver in 2011, winning the AFC West with an 8-8 mark. In the previous nine seasons, he compiled a 78-74 mark as the Carolina head coach. The origin of Manning's observation of Fox's work - other than the fact that the quarterback is a keen observer of the game at all levels - is unknown.
But, as noted, Manning pays attention to everything football related and perhaps he had simply observed Fox's work from afar, and approved of it.
Another factor to consider is the presence of Mike McCoy as the Denver offensive coordinator. A 13-year league veteran, McCoy is a proven and respected assistant. But there are suspicions in the NFL that McCoy permitted Tim Tebow considerable latitude - it would be overstatement to suggest he acquiesced to the quarterback - when the Broncos installed the read-option offense in-season in 2011.
Manning is all about control - and that is meant in the most positive sense - and the Broncos certainly will implement an offense designed to enhance his strengths. It would be naive to assume Manning won't have a hand in the implementation.
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