Peyton Manning landed right where he needed to – on a playoff team, where he can step into the one position of constant uncertainty on an otherwise well-built roster. He wasn't going to get that anywhere else, except maybe San Francisco, but his desire to stay in the AFC made Denver the right choice.
Tim Tebow deserves all the credit he received for his dramatic comebacks and for turning around a Denver team that wasn't getting it done in the early stages of 2011. The Broncos' playoff win over the Steelers, on Tebow's overtime TD strike, was magical.
But Manning is the guy who gives the Broncos a shot in that next playoff round, against New England. Tebow was overmatched against Tom Brady. Manning can get Denver back to the playoffs, and as his two Super Bowl appearances prove, he can also take them deep into the playoffs.
The pieces around Manning make this worthwhile for him and Denver. On offense, veteran running back Willis McGahee clearly isn't done, yet, and the Broncos are hoping fellow back Knowshon Moreno can finally shake the injury bug. Receiver Demaryius Thomas, who raced through the Pittsburgh secondary for that OT playoff triumph, and counterpart Eric Decker are heading into just their third seasons with loads of untapped potential. Former first-round draft pick Ryan Clady is still a young left tackle protecting Manning's blind side, too.
On defense, Manning couldn't ask for more promise than Von Miller. Last year's first-round pick led all AFC rookies in sacks with 11.5, and he and Elvis Dumervil combined for 21 sacks in the regular season to give the Broncos a steady pass rush from both sides. Denver ranked 10th in the league in sacks per pass play. There's more to build on that side of the ball, but the Broncos have a great defensive foundation with those pressure players, just as Manning's Indianapolis Super Bowl teams had with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
All of that is exciting for Manning but, perhaps, the best thing he has going for him in Denver is a boss that knows exactly what he's thinking and feeling at this stage of his career. John Elway, the Broncos' vice president of football operations, was a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback looking to go out on top, and succeeded. He gives Manning the best chance to do the same.
The Broncos are a good match for Peyton Manning, just not the best match. With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee was the perfect match because Tennessee is home.
It's the college thing. He played at Tennessee, came up short in his national championship bid at Tennessee only to have Tee Martin win the crown the following year. Manning is still the favorite son of Tennessee football fans throughout the state; it would've been the homecoming of all homecomings.
Manning was finishing his career at the University of Tennessee at about the same time the Oilers were migrating from Houston to Nashville, with a one-year layover in Memphis. Oh, yeah, I remember covering a game in the Liberty Bowl. Ouch!
The Oilers arrived in Nashville ahead of their new stadium, played the 1998 season in Vanderbilt's stadium as the Oilers, and then popped the cork on the new downtown Nashville stadium and the franchise's new name, the Titans, in 1999 with the "Music City Miracle" and a Cinderella-like run to the Super Bowl. Along the way, you might remember, they defeated Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis in the playoffs.
Those Titans were a member of the old AFC Central then; the Colts were Baltimore refugees still stuck in the geographically-challenged AFC East. Three years later, the Titans and Colts would be joined in the new AFC South.
So, you see, Manning, the Titans and the fans of all things Tennessee football have a lot in common, not to mention a significant amount of history with their AFC South neighbors to the north. It was the perfect match.
Pro football has done well in Nashville, but don't kid yourself, college football is still king in Tennessee. This was a chance to deepen the pro football roots in Tennessee. Manning could've put his stamp of approval on pro football and his fans would've followed him to the altar of play for pay.
Hey, the guy belongs in the AFC South. He's from the South. He played in the Southeastern Conference, the AFC South. He IS the South. He's Travis Tritt, not John Denver.
I think it's going to work out fine for him in Denver. He's got a good head coach and he'll be playing for a GM that is clearly crazy about him and for fans that might even forget about the quarterback Manning is replacing, provided Manning plays like Manning.
It's just that there was something romantic about the notion of Manning returning to Tennessee, facing his old team twice a year, reassuming control of the division he owned for nearly all of its existence, and giving an entire state reason to take off its orange hats and put on blue ones for at least one day a week.
Maybe you can't go home again.
What do you think?