Last game in Den­ver?

Pos­si­bil­ity that Man­ning played his fi­nal game in Den­ver on Sun­day is very real.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala The Den­ver Post

The mo­ments started dur­ing train­ing camp, when 4-year-old Mar­shall and his twin sis­ter Mosley at­tended train­ing camp prac­tices, watch­ing from un­der a tent as their father prac­ticed, then join­ing him on the field for post­work­out hugs and gig­gles. The mo­ments were sprin­kled through­out the sea­son, when Mar­shall joined his father and his father’s team­mates for stretches and warm-ups be­fore games, and when Mar­shall joined his father to only wit­ness warm-ups when he was in­jured. But the big­gest mo­ment, the most telling mo­ment, came when the two were alone Sun­day night.

Min­utes af­ter the Bron­cos punched their ticket to Su­per Bowl 50 by de­feat­ing the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots 20-18 in the AFC cham­pi­onship game, Pey­ton Man­ning sat at his locker, still wear­ing his game pants and still with a head­set on, talk­ing foot­ball. Slowly he dressed while talk­ing on-air with a lo­cal ra­dio net­work.

Pey­ton Man­ning, the usual Pey­ton Man­ning, was all busi­ness. All foot­ball. All fo­cus. Sort of. Nearly 10 feet away sat Mar­shall, wear­ing an or­ange No. 18 jersey and sketch­ing stick fig­ures on the locker room white­board. He fin­ished in time to show off his mas­ter­piece to his father, who whipped out his freshly pressed AFC cham­pi­onship ball­cap and placed it on his son’s head.

Af­ter tuck­ing the game ball into his leather suit­case, Man­ning led his son out of the locker room and to the podium where, to­gether — Mar­shall cling­ing to his father’s leg and nearly top­pling the AFC cham­pi­onship back­drop — they ad­dressed the me­dia.

At age 39 and due $20 mil­lion next sea­son, the pos­si­bil­ity that Pey­ton Man­ning played his fi­nal game in Den­ver on Sun­day is very real. And signs of him re­al­iz­ing it were hard to miss. “It’s not some­thing that you take for granted, no mat­ter how old you are, if you’re Gary Ku­biak, Wade Phillips or Tau­rean Nixon, our rookie cor­ner who just got ac­ti­vated this week in time for the AFC cham­pi­onship and Su­per Bowl,” he said. “So to en­joy that and soak it up is the game, the fans and the mo­ments with your fam­ily af­ter the game as well.”

For months, Man­ning has made a point to “stay in the mo­ment” while re­cov­er­ing from a foot in­jury that cost him six games and sub­jected him to cho­ruses of boos and weeks of doubts. A pre­vail­ing view was that he was washed up and that his time as the face of the Bron­cos’ of­fense had ex­pired. Pey­ton Man­ning was done. So it was said.

“They al­ways look at his age, how he’s played and maybe in­juries, but some­times when some­thing is im­por­tant to you, you’ll do what­ever you can to make it right or get it done,” said out­side linebacker DeMar­cus Ware. “He got hurt and they sort of ruled him out. I saw him in the train­ing room the whole time get­ting ready, and I can see it in his eyes like, ‘You know what, I can’t wait to get back on the field.’ When he got that op­por­tu­nity to get back on the field and all the crowd — the 12th man in the Bron­cos sta­dium — I can see it in his eyes like, he’s back. From that point on, I knew he was ready.”

But while stay­ing in “the now,” Man­ning also made a point to ap­pre­ci­ate all the mo­ments — good, bad, in be­tween.

Nearly three hours be­fore kick­off, Man­ning saun­tered out onto the field, in his usual all-blue sweats for his usual pregame pass­ing rou­tine to his usual re­ceiver, Jor­dan Tay­lor. But be­fore as­sum­ing his spot at the makeshift line of scrim­mage, he stopped to say hello to fa­mil­iar faces and friends.

Off to the side stood Bran­don Stok­ley, Man­ning’s for­mer re­ceiver who loaned him his ear and his home when Man­ning vis­ited Den­ver in 2012 as a free agent. Stok­ley, who re­tired in 2013 at age 37, watched the Bron­cos’ vic­tory with his el­dest son, Cameron, and with Man­ning’s father, Archie, in the Man­ning fam­ily’s suite at Sports Au­thor­ity Field.

Stok­ley watched, think­ing back to that whirl­wind trip in 2012 when the two played catch at a park in Cas­tle Rock be­fore Man­ning ul­ti­mately de­cided to sign with Den­ver.

He watched, think­ing that maybe, maybe Sun­day was the last time he’d see Man­ning play catch as a Bronco at home.

“I def­i­nitely think about it,” Stok­ley said. “With­out a doubt, you think that it could be, not know­ing for sure. I think ev­ery game, when you get to be that age, could be your last and I re­al­ized that play­ing into my mid-30s.”

When the fi­nal whis­tle blew Sun­day, Man­ning stood amid a sea of or­ange-and-blue con­fetti and ea­ger cam­era­men and re­porters. All were await­ing the oblig­a­tory hand­shakes and hugs from op­po­nents. Pa­tri­ots star Tom Brady, the coun­ter­part in their sto­ried quar­ter­back ri­valry, ar­rived first, stay­ing for a lengthy em­brace and an ex­change of words.

Then came Bill Belichick, the Bron­cos’ hooded neme­sis. The New Eng­land coach, in true Belichick fash­ion, re­fused to di­vulge his com­ments to Man­ning when asked about it after­ward. But the vis­ual of their hug and ac­com­pa­ny­ing nods of ap­pre­ci­a­tion said enough.

When it was all over Man­ning, with friends and fam­ily at his side, walked off Sports Au­thor­ity Field, stop­ping briefly to pick up some con­fetti and pose for a photo. An­other mo­ment re­mem­bered. “There is no ques­tion this is a sweet day, this was a sweet vic­tory,” he said.

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

igned with them four years ago. The team’s next game is Su­per Bowl 50 in two weeks.

Pey­ton Man­ning gets a hug from brother Cooper Man­ning af­ter the Bron­cos de­feated the Pa­tri­ots 20-18, win­ning the AFC cham­pi­onship. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Amon, The Den­ver Post

w,” Man­ning also

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