With 4,522 yards passing, 45 touchdowns, and an 11-2 record, there is little question as to who will win the AFC’s most valuable player this year. However, even more impressive than his record-breaking stats is the way Peyton Manning has completely transformed the Denver Broncos franchise in just two years.
As of December of 2011, the Broncos had a very similar roster and coaching staff, yet they barely managed to scrape their way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record and one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Fast-forward to today, subtract Tim Tebow, add Peyton Manning, and the Broncos have the most efficient offense in the game. They are likely going to lock up the top seed in the AFC for the second straight year, and they are once again favorites to play in the Super Bowl.
In just two years under Manning’s tutelage Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, and Julius Thomas have dramatically improved in almost every aspect of their game to become truly elite receivers. Running back Knowshon Moreno has developed into an entirely new player, and young secondary players like Chris Harris and Rahim Moore have become Pro Bowl caliber defensive backs.
Moreover, Manning’s presence within the locker-room has reinvigorated veterans like Champ Bailey, Kevin Vickerson, and Mike Adams. At a time when most are considering retirement, the possibility Manning brings of winning a Super Bowl has these veterans playing at a high level and more importantly, strongly mentoring the young Broncos talent.
While all of this team wide progression cannot be attributed entirely to Manning, his leadership, proven track record, skill, and passion for football has not only motivated the Broncos by sheer intimidation (no one wants to screw up in front of Peyton), but it has also allowed some of the younger players to see how one of the best, brightest, and hardest working players the game has ever seen goes about his business.
The entire football culture surrounding the Broncos’ facility at Dove Valley, and even across the entire state, changed the second Manning stepped through the door. No longer were the Broncos simply trying to win games; they were instantly preparing for Super Bowl runs, and everyone involved had to be in top gear – including the fans that have come out in record number to watch Manning play.
This type of perfectionist mentality has been infectious within the locker room, has overtaken the Broncos’ faithful and nationwide media outlets, and will continue to linger within this franchise for long after Peyton Manning has won his final MVP. Players like Brock Osweiler, Montee Ball, and Von Miller will likely don orange and blue for their entire career, and thanks to Peyton’s example of excellence these young players will carry on his winning tradition and hopefully pass it on to the next generation of Broncos.
At the end of the regular season Manning will likely win his unprecedented fifth MVP, but he is so much than just the most valuable player. He is already a football legend because he is the very heartbeat of an entire franchise and can inspire an entire city simply by showing up.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24