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DeMarcus Ware calls Peyton Manning ‘toughest’ he ever faced

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And how lucky were we to have both on the team together for a Super Bowl run?

NFL: AFC Championship-New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I miss DeMarcus Ware.

And Peyton Manning.

And I bet if you asked them, the two future Hall-of-Famers miss each other - and Broncos Country - too.

Not just because they were teammates in the twilight of their careers here.

Not just because they motivated each other while rehabbing injuries in a crucial period of what became a Super Bowl-winning season for the Broncos.

Not just because they were both the locker room leaders for a desperate team seeking to avenge a recent Super Bowl loss and get another Lombardi before both legends were done with the sport.

But mostly because they had a mutual respect for the other’s work ethic and devotion to a craft that matched their own obsessive commitment.

And in an outstanding Player’s Tribune essay today, the premiere edge rusher said as much when he put Manning atop the list of the five toughest players he faced in his 12 years in the NFL.

“That was the thing about Peyton: He was always the smartest player on the field, but he was also the most competitive. He was a master of the chess game.”

Ware experienced that chess game first-hand against The Sheriff in 2013.

But the story really started in 2006 when Manning was beginning what would be his seventh Pro Bowl season for the Indianapolis Colts and Ware, just a second-year player at the Dallas Cowboys, was in what would become his first Pro-Bowl season.

Ware knew Manning was a trickster at the line, so the young edge rusher decided to pull some tricks of his own.

No. 94 was split out wide to cover the slot receiver, which usually meant he wouldn’t rush the passer. Knowing that Manning watched more film than anybody, D-Ware was sure Manning knew he would never rush in that situation, too.

“So I faked him out.

I went out into the slot, and I didn’t even look back at Peyton, because I knew that if I looked back at him, he might expect me to motion back in and rush. So I kept my eyes locked on the slot receiver until the very last second, after Peyton had made all his calls and adjustments. And as soon as he was about to hike the ball, I started cheating inside. Since he had expected me to be in coverage and he thought there was no rusher coming off the right side, he had audibled to a play away from me, thinking his blind side would be clear.

Which means nobody was there to block me.”

And that meant, once Manning hiked the ball, Ware was ready for him, blindsiding No. 18 and knocking the ball out.

The Cowboys didn’t recover the fumble, but they did beat the Colts - and more importantly to Ware - he figured out how to beat Manning.

“You gotta fake him out.”

The problem was, Manning would never forget that play.

Never.

Even if it took his entire career to make up for it.

And it almost did, but PFM managed to do it seven years later as quarterback for the Broncos.

The Broncos had a third-and-goal on the one-inch line. And if there was one thing I was certain about at that moment, it was that Peyton Manning was not going to run the ball. At least I knew he wouldn’t be running to the outside. They only needed one inch. If anything, he’d run a QB sneak.

So when Peyton hiked the ball and dropped back to hand it off to Knowshon Moreno, I was certain it was a dive play up the gut. There was literally nobody blocking me. So I came clean down the line, and I was thinking, I’m gonna smash this guy and get the stop.

Ah, but Manning had not forgotten getting bested by the fellow Pro-Bowler.

So he took that moment to change the play and remind D-Ware who would have the last word.

Holding on to the ball and running to his left “about two miles an hour,” Manning strutted across the goal line uncontested.

He remembered.

And he changed the play at the line of scrimmage to run that naked bootleg, just to get back at me.

...That’s why he’s one of the all-time greats.

No doubt, the fact that Manning cared enough to plot such a revenge means he would consider D-Ware one of the all-time greats as well.