Fans thrilled to see Manning continue a storybook finish
As the Denver Broncos stormed the field late Sunday afternoon, Steve Kidd held a neon-pink poster that captured the mood of fans: “No. 18 — The time is now.” “We are going to finish the story,” said Kidd, “Peyton’s story.”
The Broncos’ 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game probably was quarterback Peyton Manning’s final home game in orange. And the storybook finish is just what the fans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High came to see.
“It was the greatest ending I’ve ever seen,” John McDonald of Parker said as fans hollered in triumph on the concourse near him.
It’s hard to underestimate what the game — and the Broncos’ trip to Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 — meant to the 77,112 fans in the stands and the many thousands gathered outside the stadium.
Manning’s future is not certain, but the fans understood his four-year run in Denver is nearing
“I’m glad it will all end in Denver,” said Cliff Cage, 31, who watched the game at Jackson’s bar. “We needed him for these playoffs. He’s a legend.”
“If you have to say anything about him, it’s that he’s the man of this city,” added Adam Maley, 45, who watched the game at the Sports Column.
The sentimental nature of the victory didn’t escape the quarterback either. “It’s been a special four years playing here in Denver for these great fans, for this great organization,” Manning told the crowd after the game as confetti floated in the sky above the field.
All day long, the fans outside and inside the stadium wanted to talk about Manning’s likely final home game with the Broncos.
“That’s why we are here,” said Melissa Woehrle, who flew from Boston for the game.
Even her husband, wearing a Patriots No. 12 Tom Brady jersey, acknowledged the game’s extra meaning. “There’s not a lot to not like about the guy,” Tom Woehrle said. “He’s a Hall of Famer; you got to like that.”
Manning arrived with huge expectations in 2012. His new teammates called it “a historic move.” The Broncos unretired Frank Tripucka’s No. 18 jersey for him.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on one guy, but what he’s accomplished ... I think he can bring us to one of the dominant organizations,” one player said in 2012.
The army of orange in the stands felt the same. “He was the savior,” recalled Dave Huelskamp, a seasonticket holder from Littleton. “He was going to give us a shot to win a couple more Super Bowls.”
Each game, the superfans dissected his every step and every spiral. The 39-yearold’s age generated debate.
And the quarterback’s injuries this season divided the Broncos house between Manning loyalists and Brock Osweiler believers. Not all the Manning stories from the past four years ended well.
“You know, unfortunately, the big Manning memory for me is the Super Bowl loss” in the 2013 season, said “Bronco Queen” Bookie Louise. “We were there.”
Other fans argue that it’s the right time for him to step away.
“The arm strength obviously isn’t there anymore,” said Mike Ferro, 31, as he watched the game from a downtown bar. “You could compare Peyton Manning to Michael Jordan when he was about to retire. He’s just done.”
But for those who wear his jersey, Manning brought a certain level of confidence, and drew comparisons to Broncos legend John Elway.
“Whenever Elway was in the game, I never ever gave up hope, and that’s how I feel when Peyton’s in too,” said Tina Scavo, a 57-yearold Realtor from Loveland. “It’s sort of like Elway’s in the game, almost.”
Still, Manning started the game plagued by questions.
“Is Peyton Manning washed out?” the voice of a sports radio jockey boomed from a tailgate party.
“Peyton Manning’s last stand?” asked the TV screen on the stadium concourse.
The Manning-Brady rivalry and the game’s dramatic ending left Broncos fans euphoric.
Morgan Cey, a 34-yearold from Fort Collins, brought his brothers down from Canada for the game. “Because this is a once-in-alifetime thing,” he said as he watched the game. “It’s pretty awesome to watch arguably the greatest quarterback of all time finish out his career in Denver.
Pete Tovani, a seasonticket holder from Centennial, wore an orange Manning T-shirt with the quarterback’s initials emblazoned on the front.
He called the up-anddown Broncos season “a great fairy tale.”
“Manning,” he added, “is America’s quarterback.”
A fan at the Tavern Downtown celebrates in front of the big screen after New England failed to recover an onside kick near the end of Sunday’s AFC championship game. The Broncos won 20-18. Brent Lewis, The Denver Post