Swarmed by college recruiters during his high school days in New Orleans, most of Peyton Manning’s nights ended about like this:
“He’d come kind of (lie) on the foot of our bed and talk about who he talked to and the programs and everything,” his father, Archie, said in a telephone interview.
That casual family dynamic for navigating decisions apparently changed little in roughly 20 years between then and the monumental matter Peyton Manning was up against in 2012 after a fourth neck surgery.
Archie and Olivia Manning had great concerns about their son’s future health. So Peyton flew home one night, plopped on the foot of their bed and talked:
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“Here’s the deal. I’m old. I’ve had the surgery. I’ve had the fusion. I’m going to do what the doctors tell me to do. … If they say I shouldn’t play football again, then I’m done, and it’s been a good ride.
“But if they say I can play football again, I’m going to give it my best shot.”
This comforted them some.
But even with doctor approval, how vulnerable might he be, especially with his 36th birthday looming?
“There were so many unknowns …” Peyton Manning said during a conference call as his Denver Broncos were preparing to play host to the Chiefs on Sunday. “There was so much, ‘Hey, it should come back.’”
Only should, though, not will.
At that point, with four NFL MVP awards and two Super Bowl berths behind him, there was no question of Manning’s sheer nerve.
Sheered nerve endings were another matter.
“There’s not a whole lot you can do to make them come back any quicker,” he said, later adding, “And of all places it was (affecting) was my right arm.”
That right arm had hurled more than 54,000 NFL yards and been good for 399 touchdowns for Indianapolis.
Yet Manning was left pondering the words of a high school coach who had urged him to become “amphibious” … meaning ambidextrous.
“I should have taken the advice and learned to throw left-handed,” Manning joked. “It’s too late for that.”
But not, as it happened, a recovery that perhaps is underappreciated because of what he has done since.
On the way to the 2014 Super Bowl in his second season back, the Broncos amassed the second-most points per game in NFL history (37.9) as Manning set league records with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns.
And there was nothing inevitable or easy about this.
The father remembers 2011, after one of the neck surgeries, when the son couldn’t even throw a few yards.
“He just kind of had to start over,” Archie Manning said.
In more ways than one.
As he sat out the 2011 season and Indianapolis plummeted into position to draft Andrew Luck, Manning still figured his future would be with the Colts until they cut him in March 2012.
He had reconciled mentoring Luck because he thought of himself as someone who would play his entire career with one team.
“Then all of a sudden … he had to go look for a team,” Archie Manning said.
Recovery questions or not, though, there was no shortage of suitors.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt and then-coach Romeo Crennel were among those making public overtures.
Manning visited Denver, Arizona and Tennessee and was visited by a few other teams.
He apparently didn’t strongly consider Kansas City. He’s shut the question about KC down so many times there was no point in asking again Wednesday, but his father cast some light on it.
Peyton and his father both liked then-general manager Scott Pioli, whom Archie Manning said had been good to them.
And Peyton even had “a fondness for Kansas City,” Archie Manning said, based in part on five trips here as the recipient of the NFL 101 Awards offensive player of the year.
He’s earned the award, incidentally, twice more since going to Denver.
But free agency reminded him of recruiting, which was one thing to go through as a teenager and another to go through as an adult.
“It grew old with him real fast,” the father said.
So he narrowed the field early, locked in on the most appealing target (in part because of John Elway’s role with the Broncos) and has thrived.
So much so that he now seems taken for granted just because, well, he’s Peyton Manning, force of nature.
But no one could have anticipated the recovery or even really felt certain he’d stay healthy … assurances to his parents notwithstanding.