Fans thrilled to see Man­ning con­tinue a sto­ry­book fin­ish

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Frank

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

its end.

“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

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