The impact Peyton Manning made on the Broncos was immeasurable
With quarterback Peyton Manning being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend, let’s reflect on the impact No. 18 made on the Denver Broncos organization.
Amid the celebration from back-to-back world championships, 1999 marked the end of an era for the Broncos with the retirement of John Elway, the greatest player in franchise history.
Year after year, Denver searched far and wide for a franchise quarterback who could bring the Lombardi Trophy back to the Mile High City.
The Broncos came close in 2005 with Jake Plummer, but from 1999 to 2012 Denver only made the postseason five times — with zero Super Bowl appearances in that time.
For years the Broncos were an above-average team, but they just weren’t good enough to overtake the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots. Big-name free agents rarely came to Denver, and if they did, it was toward the end of their careers (see John Lynch and Brian Dawkins).
After a year and a half surviving the hurricane that was head coach Josh McDaniels, Elway made his triumphant return, this time as an executive.
But while Elway and the Broncos rode Tim Tebow to an exciting season in 2011, things didn’t get real in Denver until the team snagged the greatest free agent to ever hit the NFL market: Peyton Manning.
Despite the exciting comebacks and late-game theatrics, Denver couldn’t win a Super Bowl with Tebow.
They needed “The Sheriff.”
Media attention already high during the Tebow era, the spotlight on the Broncos only grew brighter with Manning’s signing in March 2012. Denver was Super Bowl contenders again with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history joining a playoff team from the previous season.
Thousands showed up to training camp to watch Manning practice in orange and blue, including hundreds of media members. The Broncos had become a national, if not an international, attraction.
Denver also became a destination for top free agents. From offensive weapons like Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker to stout defenders like DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, players wanted to suit up next to Manning on the Broncos sidelines.
Never has one quarterback attracted as many free agents as Manning did with Denver. Even Elway admitted to No. 18 making his job as general manager a little easier.
And with a star-studded roster, everything fell into place with the return of Gary Kubiak, who took over as head coach in 2015. Kubiak found the perfect situation waiting in Denver, which culminated in a Super Bowl 50 victory in Manning’s final NFL game.
But perhaps the biggest credit to Manning’s impact on the Broncos is how the team managed to compete at a high level despite significant hurdles behind the scenes. Denver continued to win divisional titles and make deep playoff runs despite late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen stepping away from the team in 2014 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Manning helped mask the issues away from the field because his play on it. And since his departure, the Broncos have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Denver has become the only team in NFL history to miss the postseason five consecutive years after winning a Super Bowl. And since Manning’s retirement in 2016, the Broncos have yet to find a franchise quarterback.
The bottom line is there’s only one Peyton Manning, and you can’t replace him. So look back fondly at the four years the Pro Football Hall of Famer put in with the Broncos.
Because otherwise, Broncos Country might be mired in a bunch of .500 seasons and without a third Super Bowl victory under its belt.
History wouldn’t have been the same for the Broncos if it wasn’t for No. 18.