To say the Peyton Manning storylines will be exhausted over the next two weeks quicker than the product stacked on Colorado's marijuana shop shelves is an understatement. His redemptive win over the New England Patriots and Super Bowl return has already gotten more ink than Colin Kaepernick's biceps. Omaha naming its only own main street Peyton Manning Avenue, winning on Eli's homefield, old school pocket passer vs. new age quarterback Russell Wilson, the unheralded 5-10 third rounder versus Manning, the 6-5 prodigy, the winner being retroactively digitally imposed into the series finale of Weeds. We know all the Bronco storylines.
However, a few weeks ago, a friend of mine who shall remain nameless, and I were discussing the plume of smoke that would form over the skies of Colorado and Washington if the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos reached the Super Bowl. That kush cloud is probably one of the reasons Manning's neck appears to be more stable than ever and that after his Bud Light postgame shout-out last weekend, Doritos or Taco Bell will approach him as a spokesman before the Super Bowl.
When the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 offense in the league go medieval on each other on the gridiron at MetLife Stadium their statistical dominance on their respective ends of the football will be red herrings. Colorado's Amendment 64 and Washington's Initiative 502 legalizing marijuana would steal the narrative. In the process, Wiz Khalifa now has to replace Bruno Mars as the halftime performer and Von Miller would get so lifted that he wouldn't need an ACL in his knee to float towards the quarterback. President Obama calling alcohol a more dangerous product than marijuana only drives the issue forward.
Manning isn't the only one that relished Denver's commanding win over New England. Twenty-seven years ago, Bill Belichick's Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense left John Elway feeling black and blue after Super Bowl XXI.
Elway's first prerogative as Broncos VP in January of 2011 was to approach a certain Stanford coach named Jim Harbaugh who was receiving overtures from seemingly every NFL franchise except the Patriots for his work down at Elway's alma mater. Instead, Harbaugh chose the organization nearest in proximity to his childhood and his home in Palo Alto. Elway ignored John Fox's 78-74 record as Panthers coach and tabbed him as the man with the vision to lead the franchise back to the Promised Land. The Harbaugh comeuppance came on Sunday. January 19th was retribution for Belichick absconding with a pair of Super Bowls that Fox and Elway believe belong on their fingers.
Twice Fox has been to the Super Bowl, but the most deflating one of all was his loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The season ended with buzzer-beating field goal from Adam "F*#kin' Vinateri, set up after Panthers kicker James Kasay's kick out of bounds gave the Patriots possession at the 40-yard-line after the game-tying score.
However, it also represented the hidden genius of Fox. He's perceived to be a nominal leader riding Manning's coattails, but he's also one of six men to take two separate franchises to the Super Bowl as the head coach.
Elway is the man responsible for getting Denver mile high without running afoul of Roger Goodell's substance abuse policies. Instead of fading into the retirement sunset as Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Brett Favre have done, Elway stuck his neck out there. He could have tarnished his legacy by being remembered as the Michael Jordan of football executives. Since the hiring of Fox, all he's done is make a stream of decisions that have set his organization up for their first return to the Super Bowl appearance in 15 years. Looking back at Elway's personnel moves, including the addition of Fox and Manning,, which formed Denver's trifecta is like watching Wiz break down how to roll the perfect joint.
Elway rolled it up, Fox crushed it, sparked the resurgence and Manning lit the offense. Tim the Magic Tebow's magical run to the divisional round of the playoffs nearly threw a wrench into his plans, or so it would seem. After all, he couldn't possibly bench Tebow after he propelled them into the postseason while becoming the NFL's most beloved player?
Instead, Elway withstood the thunderous public outcry by refusing to hand the reigns of their franchise to Tebow past Week 17. Elway wasn't preoccupied with the moment. On his weekly radio show in November of 2011, Elway parried a question about whether he'd found his quarterback of the future in the 4-1 Tebow. His answer was a blunt no. Behind the scenes, you could imagine Elway using Tebow's face on the front page of the Denver Post as rolling paper as he answered.
As much as Elway's machinations leading up to Denver's Super Bowl berth were based on quality talent evaluation and shrewd decision-making, his prized acquisition fell into his lap like Dave Chappelle finding a medicinal marijuana lab stash in Half Baked. Elway was as giddy about signing Manning as Thurgood was getting his hands on a one-pound brick of good kush. Passing the torch to Manning cooled the Cult of Tebow vitriol and kept the fans at ease.
Following Manning's signing, Elway enacted plans to cement Manning's place as the best quarterback in NFL history. Those were his words.
"We're so fortunate that he's picked the Denver Broncos," added Elway. "We think it's a great situation. He's a guy that's ... a Hall of Famer."
In his third season at the helm, Fox guided a patchwork offense and a veteran defense to the brink of a world title. Jake Delhomme was a roach in the hands of Fox's Panthers offense. Manning is the fat holy cross joint Seth Rogen and James Franco smoked in Pineapple Express. It took teamwork between Elway and Fox to get this thing to work.
Fox's defenses have been the constant from Tebow to Orton. Too old to drop back in the pocket these days, Elway used his reputation to recruit the quarterback who would serve as his proxy under center. Just as he made Julius Peppers his first pick in 2001, Fox brought the physicality lacking from the defensive front seven. His first pick as Broncos coach was Texas A&M defensive end Von Miller.
Miller tore his ACL in Week 16, however, the Broncos defense squeezed the air out of the Patriots offense for most of the afternoon. The only scheme Tom Brady was able to matriculate the ball down the field against was the prevent defense. Much like Tony Dungy's defense bit into the veins of opposing offenses en route to the only Super Bowl win in Manning's career thus far, Fox's bucking bronco defense has come alive in playoff primetime allowing just 27 points in two games.
With Denver's second round draft pick in 2011, Elway chose Rahim Moore. Moore was a turnover machine at UCLA for three years. Unfortunately, his proclivity for getting out of position when he smells a potential turnover set the Broncos Super Bowl plans back by a year after he whiffed on a Joe Flacco deep ball in the fourth quarter of their ill-fated Divisional Round matchup.
Eight years ago, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian rid himself of the Colts drunken kicker Mike Vanderjagt after he hooked one of the most emotionally devastating field goal misses in NFL history to make room for the Pats' Adam Vinateri. The next season, Vinateri made all the requisite field goals to supplement Manning leading Indianapolis past New England for the AFC crown and all the way to their first Lombardi Trophy. Forgotten about last season's playoff loss is that Manning threw the season-ending pick in Brandon Stokley's vicinity. Elway keyed in on his one vulnerability in the receiving corps to pilfer the lightning quick Wes Welker from New England. On Sunday, Welker made an impact by colliding with New England's top cornerback Aqib Talib and forcing him from the game with a lower leg injuyy.
The only Blount that was a non-factor in Denver this weekend was LaGarrette Blount, who gained six yards on five carries one week after compiling 166 yards and four touchdowns against Indy. The Broncos defenders were sitting on top of Brady's receivers, infiltrating his pocket space and throwing road blocks in front of the Patriots running lanes. It didn't help that Brady was misfiring worse than a stoned hipster. It's becoming a theme for Brady as he reaches an advanced football age. Turns out high fives and Welker aren't the only thing Brady is missing the days
His arm isn't losing velocity as drastically as Manning. Instead he's losing voluntary control of his muscles and becoming one of the most consistent overthrowers in the league.
The Manning-Elway-Fox triad has been wreaking havoc on the NFL for two years, but the groundwork was laid by Elway after he selected Moore and Miller. In the fourth round of Elway's first draft he snagged a Portland State power forward moonlighting as a tight end. Starting with Elway's appointment in January of 2011, the Broncos have been building to this moment.
Defensive end Malik Jackson, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick led the Broncos in tackles for losses and quarterback hurries in 2013. Hopefully, Elvis Dumervil wasn’t watching the Broncos celebrate an AFC Championship on his birthday Sunday night. His replacement Shaun Phillips racked up 10 sacks this season, not including a pair against the team that drafted him in the divisional round.
Fax-Gate only occurred last March because Elway needed cap space to officially sign Welker. Elway eschewed paying $12 million like a slew of general managers like Jerry Jones or Bruce Allen would have done and countered Dumervil with a $4 million salary reduction from $12 million to $8 million.
Instead of spending $8 million on Dumervil's 9.5 sacks, though Fox squeezed 10 out of Phillips for $1.8 million.
Second-year outside linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team with 125 tackles, was a force in pass coverage diving for the game-winning interception against Dallas in Week 8 and was one of the league’s best at his position defending the run.
It's now up to John Fox and Manning to seize this opportunity and not it let it go down the doob tube. This is the most powerful strain of Peyton Manning we've ever seen. After obliterating NFL records and career-highs, it's on Seattle and Richard Sherman to bring Manning's Broncos down.