by: Tom Van Riper, Forbes Staff
For nearly three weeks, Denver Broncos fans have been lining up in droves at the team’s Englewood, Colo. training camp. The man they’re turning out to see: new franchise quarterback Peyton Manning.
Opting to end the Tim Tebow experiment, the Broncos invested million over five years to win the sweepstakes for Manning, a 36-year-old veteran who cleared out of Indianapolis to make way for Andrew Luck. Manning, coming off a serious neck injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season, will earn million this year. How high are expectations? Over 4,000 fans, many lining up at 6 AM, showed up for Manning’s first workout with the team on July 26, according to the Denver Post.
By signing Manning at this stage of his career, the obvious goal is to reach a Super Bowl, and to reach one quickly. How big a risk did the Broncos take by linking their fortunes to an incoming veteran quarterback?
Quite big. Huge, actually. History is not on their side. Consider the numbers: 53 different quarterbacks have started Super Bowls in the game’s 46-year history. Of those, only four were playing in their first year with the club after being acquired via trade or free agency. The four: Earl Morrall of the 1969 Colts, Craig Morton of the 1978 Broncos, Trent Dilfer of the 2001 Ravens, and Jake Delhomme of the 2004 Panthers. And those clubs all had something in common – a top ten defense in terms of points allowed (in fact the Colts, Ravens and Broncos were all in the top three). The current Denver defense wouldn’t seem to have that kind of potential, coming off a year in which it ranked 24th in the league.
A handful of quarterbacks, including Jim Plunkett, Brad Johnson and Kerry Collins, led new teams to Super Bowls in their second seasons following trades. All of them, though, were at least a bit younger than Manning, if not as talented.
The proven formula for a Super Bowl run: drafting your own quarterback and nurturing him along. Of those 53 Super Bowl starters in history, 32 of them were drafted by the clubs they eventually took there. Some, like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, made it pretty quickly. But most took a little while: Aaron Rodgers of the Packers was in his sixth season when he went in 2011. Eli Manning, Troy Aikman, and the guy who pulled the trigger on the Manning deal, John Elway, made it in their fourth seasons. Steve McNair, Terry Bradshaw and Bob Griese in their fifth. And Peyton himself made it in his ninth season with Indianapolis when he scored his lone title in 2007.
Now he’s trying to buck the odds, not only as the fifth QB to win right away with a new team, but to become just the third to take two teams to a Super Bowl, along with Morton and Kurt Warner. But the signing has that feel of the Kansas City Chiefs acquisition of Joe Montana at a similar age back in 1993. After 13 brilliant years in San Francisco, Montana closed out his career with two decent seasons for Chiefs, leading them to the playoffs in 1993 and 1994. But there never was a Super Bowl. Expect the same for Manning and Denver.
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