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Original Issue

Peyton's New Place

Ending weeks of speculation, the game's top free agent followed his heart to Denver

When word spread through the Broncos' football facility on Monday morning that free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning had chosen to sign with Denver over San Francisco and Tennessee, applause broke out. Hugs, high fives and a few shrieks too. "There was absolute elation," said executive director of media relations Patrick Smyth.

On March 7, when Manning was cut by the Colts and became a free agent, the Broncos weren't high on anyone's list of where the four-time MVP might land—except Manning's. And as it turns out, his was the only one that counted. Manning, according to a friend, kept the circle of advisers for his new team very tight. "Like, it was a circle of one," the friend joked over the weekend. That allowed Manning to control the process—and if you know Peyton Manning, you know how controlling he is.

Why Denver? Clearly Manning loved being sold on the team by fellow quarterbacking legend John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations. Coach John Fox persuaded Manning that he'd be able to run the offense as he saw fit. And the Broncos were obviously impressed watching Manning, who turns 36 on Saturday, work out three days earlier, with the arm of a man who didn't look like he'd had four neck procedures in the past two years.

Manning has studied the AFC for 14 years. And the Broncos are in the AFC West, which entering the 2012 season looks to be the most winnable of the NFL's eight divisions. But his choice of Denver is not without risk. He turned down the 49ers, a team with a top three defense, in part because he didn't want to go head-to-head with his brother Eli of the Giants in any game before the Super Bowl.

As a friend of Manning's said on Sunday, "His brain tells him San Francisco. His heart tells him Denver." His heart won, and that's why Colorado on Monday was on a Rocky Mountain high.



MOUNTAIN MAN The 49ers and the Titans were in the running, but in the end Manning went for Elway's pitch and Fox's playbook.