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Manning to the PFHOF: No. 18’s last game wasn’t his best football, but it was our best outcome

Recalling Super Bowl 50...and all it took for Manning to get there.

Of all the “letters” I wrote to Peyton Manning - and there were far too many! - my favorite was one that kind of got lost in the shuffle. In the Super Bowl Shuffle (see what I did there?)

I wrote it the morning of Super Bowl 50, and it’s my favorite because I was so confident in the outcome of that game. Oh I knew it was going to be thanks to the defense, but I also knew that Peyton F***ing Manning was not going to waste this last chance.

And we all knew it was going to be his last chance.

A lot of fans were sure we would win that game when Von Miller got the strip sack. And many even admit that as soon as Manning completed his first pass or the offense finished the first drive with a score (even if just a field goal) that Broncos would win it.

In truth, I knew it the minute I hit “send” for this last letter.

Dear Mr. Manning:

We made it.

It’s been a great trip for you and me. There have been incredible highs and heart-wrenching lows. But we never gave up, we worked hard, and now we are back here. Yes, you have been the one doing the real work. But I’ve been here supporting you, writing to you, believing in you.

I add “me,” not because my lows or highs compare to yours. But because I relate to them. I put on your jersey every Sunday. I celebrate each win and mourn each loss and follow your lead in getting back to the next week either way.

We all do.

I hope you don’t mind, for the purposes of this letter, I presume to join you on what you admit could be your last rodeo - our last rodeo.

Remember the game at Seattle in Week 3 of 2014? Unfortunately we couldn’t put a check in the ‘W’ column, but man was it a fun game at the end. It was the game we had wanted to be in nine months earlier against virtually that same Seahawks squad.

We both know there are no moral victories, but that came close.

That was a near miraculous comeback in one of the toughest stadiums to play and against the defending champs who had neutralized us just months before, adding yet another “Broncos’ blowout” to Super Bowl lore.

Then there was the Rams game a few weeks later in which we realized a pass-only offense just wasn’t going to cut it against any half-way aggressive defense that would dare us to win through the air and were not the least bit afraid of our game on the ground. So you came back the next week to throw four touchdowns and put our running game over 200 yards against a tough Miami defense. Things looked good.

There were still plenty highlight games, especially our heroic efforts against the Chargers despite needing four IVs of electrolytes pregame and halftime to overcome the flu. But we gutted it out and pulled out a win.

But of course that season didn’t end like you and I had planned. Your former team got the best of our Broncos at Mile High in the divisional playoffs.

It was a devastating end to what had been billed our season of “unfinished business.”

Unfortunately, the only real unfinished business was the rumor mill that would dominate the blogosphere for weeks after the season, anticipating your decision whether to stay in football and remain with the Orange and Blue.

You may recall my letter to you about that - it was a tough decision coming back, but I knew as long as you wanted to give everything to this year, it would work out.

And it has.

This season has been different - “unique” to use your word. Obviously there were new coaches and new players. Sure it was a new year with a different emphasis for team strengths. And a new attitude certainly permeated Dove Valley from the moment OTAs began.

But this time around it actually felt different. The sentiments seemed more real and the clichés more believable.

Then the games started, and the struggle was real - but it was good.

Our offense could appear so anemic yet so efficient within the same game while the defense could absolutely dominate, occasionally come up short but still bounce back at just the right time to grab victory in the least likely situations.

Every one of our wins were hard-fought - while the losses were hard to swallow - yet every game brought bonding through the strife and belief through the victory.

Some of us were impatient, and the media relished a good controversy, but you and I remained steadfast, believing in you, believing in this team.

And here we are in Super Bowl 50 to reap the benefits of our faith.

If we measure a good season by the excitement and entertainment it provides, this one ranks at the top.

If we measure it by victories - both mental and physical - this cannot be matched.

But if we measure it by your standard - “did I help my team win?” - then this season stands above all others.

You’ve always been a team leader - astounding work ethic, remarkable humility and stellar ability.

But this season you’ve proved to also be a team player. This is why we are here, why we will win one more time.

It’s been a long two years, and we’ve fought valiantly side-by-side - you as the knight and me as the scribe - each with our swords at the ready for battle.

I’ve taken the liberty of writing the last chapter already because I know how this ends.

No matter what, we win.