Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

One by one, they walked out of the Empower Field tunnel on Jan. 22 to surprise Peyton Manning.

His college coach and play-caller at Tennessee — Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe.

His second and third coaches with the Indianapolis Colts — Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.

And, finally, his last NFL coach — Gary Kubiak.

The man who was synonymous with maniacal preparation during an 18-year pro career with Indianapolis and the Broncos was taken aback. Fulmer, Cutcliffe, Dungy, Caldwell and Kubiak traveled to Denver to provide memories of coaching Manning, which served as the opening act for the unsurprising news.

“We have another surprise for you,” Dungy told Manning.

At that point, Pro Football Hall of Fame president/CEO David Baker walked out of the stadium’s mid-field tunnel to inform Manning he was a member of the Class of 2021.

On Saturday, it became official during the NFL Honors program. Manning is joined by former Broncos safety John Lynch, defensive back Charles Woodson, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and offensive lineman Alan Faneca as modern-era inductees.

Newman High School in New Orleans. Tennessee. Indianapolis. Denver. And now Canton.

“In about a four-minute span, I kind of went through 30 years of football, from my first year playing high school ball in 1990 and everybody who’s had an impact on my football life,” Manning said of the stadium gathering.

Manning said his father, Archie, will present him on Induction Night this summer.

“He has had the greatest football influence on me of anyone,” he said.

Manning’s induction marks the third consecutive year and fourth time in five years that the Broncos have been represented, following running back Terrell Davis (2017), cornerback Champ Bailey and late owner Pat Bowlen (2019) and safety Steve Atwater (2020).

Manning joins John Elway (2004) as the second Broncos quarterback to reach the Hall, the third elected in his first year of eligibility (Elway and Bailey) and ninth player in franchise history who spent a significant portion of their career with the team.

Manning and Atwater (last year’s induction ceremony was canceled) will be enshrined Aug. 8.

Through the 2020 season, Manning ranks second all-time in wins (196) and third in passing yards (71,940) and touchdown passes (539)

“Neat way” to be informed

The coronavirus pandemic prevented the traditional wait-in-their-hotel-room-for-a-knock-from-Baker, but the Hall still wanted to have an in-person notification for inductees. Ahead of the Jan. 19 vote, the Hall reached out to Broncos chief communications officer Patrick Smyth for assistance organizing an unveiling for Manning.

Smyth’s first text was to Manning’s wife, Ashley. The Hall’s initial idea was to surprise Peyton at his home and possibly fly in Archie from New Orleans. Ashley, though, stressed the best plan was to incorporate Peyton’s former coaches.

The wheels quickly went into motion.

The Broncos contacted John Fox, who planned to attend but was unable to because of a health issue. They asked Tennessee (Fulmer), Duke (Cutcliffe), the Colts (Dungy and Caldwell), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Manning’s long-time offensive coordinator with the Colts, Tom Moore, is a Bucs assistant coaching in the Super Bowl) for assistance.

Ashley called Peyton’s high school coach, Tony Reginelli, and Broncos coach Vic Fangio pitched in by calling Jim Mora, Manning’s first NFL coach.

The date was set: Friday, Jan. 22 at Mile High.

Colts owner Jim Irsay provided his private jet to pick up Dungy (Tampa) and Caldwell (Charlotte). The athletic programs at Tennessee (Fulmer) and Duke (Cutcliffe) did the same. The Broncos flew Kubiak via private jet from the Houston area.

Manning had an 11 a.m. appointment at a local television station to do voice-over work. He was also told he needed to recite some on-camera lines at Mile High at noon.

“I’m not going to lie, my antenna was up a little bit,” he said.

Once at the stadium, Manning stood in the south end zone facing midfield.

“What are you looking at?” he asked the cameraman, who was looking beyond Manning.

Out walked Fulmer, Cutcliffe, Dungy, Caldwell and Kubiak. Moments later, Baker delivered the good news.

But there was more.

Manning’s 9-year old twins, Marshall (wearing dad’s No. 18 Colts jersey) and Mosley (wearing dad’s No. 18 Broncos jersey) ran onto the field. The presentation wrapped up with video messages from Reginelli (who turned 87 this weekend), Fox, Mora and Moore.

The group left the stadium for a late lunch in a private room at former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan’s restaurant.

“ I have to tell you, it was just a neat way (to be informed),” Manning said. “To me, it’s a better way of letting people know as opposed to waiting for a knock on a hotel door.

“Ashley audibled to make this a real football moment.”

Bond with ’16 team

Manning had to keep his induction under wraps for nearly two weeks, but from his time with the Broncos, he contacted FOX, president/CEO Joe Ellis, general manager John Elway, former offensive coordinators Mike McCoy and Adam Gase, outside linebacker Von Miller, former receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker and the team’s support staffs.

Out the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, Manning was released by Indianapolis and signed a five-year, $96 million contract with the Broncos 13 days later.

In four years in Denver, Manning was 45-12 in the regular season (140 touchdowns/53 interceptions) and 5-3 in the playoffs (11 touchdowns/six interceptions). In 2013, his 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown passes were single-season NFL records.

His final game was five years ago Sunday — the Broncos’ Super Bowl win over Carolina.

But there was adversity … team and individual.

“I wear my Super Bowl rings from Denver and Indianapolis and I just have memories in my mind and in my heart of what those teams went through,” Manning said when asked about the ’16 team. “Indianapolis, we were 14-2 and had a devastating loss to Pittsburgh (in the January ’06 playoffs) at home and (was) the kind of game that can make you or break you. It made us. We stuck together, kept pushing through and won it the next year.

“We had some chances in Denver the first couple years and disappointing losses in the Super Bowl (to Seattle) and in the playoffs to Baltimore (after the ’12 season) and Indianapolis (after the ’14 season). You just keep plugging along.”

In ’16, Manning fought a foot injury and had at least one interception in the first eight games; in the ninth, he threw four interceptions against Kansas City and was replaced by Brock Osweiler. Manning was inactive for six games and was the Week 17 backup when he took over for Osweiler in the second half against San Diego then started each playoff game en route to the Super Bowl championship.

“No doubt about it, tremendous pride to be a part of that team,” Manning said. “It was great talking to Coach Kubiak about that team and when I talked to Von, Emmanuel and Demaryius, you have that bond.”

Playing with teammates like Miller, Sanders and Thomas, working with coaches like Mora, Dungy and Kubiak and experiencing so many golden moments like two Super Bowls and four MVPs, Manning’s speech, through his natural story-telling skills, in Canton will be entertaining. But it won’t be lengthy.

“Nobody has remembered to be short (with their speech) in the history of it,” Manning joked. “Mine will be. I know I appreciate brevity. … I’m a little more of the style of what I’ve been doing these past couple days — calling people and thanking them for what they did for me and my football journey. That’s kind of my early approach.”

The calls will continue until the induction. High school buddies. Behind-the-scenes team employees in the video, training and equipment departments. Coaches. Teammates.

“What this has meant to me is a chance to reflect, a chance to let people know how grateful I’ve been for their help because it’s certainly been a fun ride,” Manning said. “But it’s been fun because I’ve had so many people to share it with.”


Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame