Not to get carried away, but Super Bowl XLVII for the coming NFL season will be played in the Superdome. More specifically, in New Orleans, hometown of star quarterback Peyton Manning.
Denver is Manning's home now. Considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Manning notified Broncos front-office boss John Elway and coach John Fox on Monday morning that he is heading to Denver.
"Gave me a little jump-start," Broncos receiver Eric Decker said. "See if we can make the most of this thing, huh?"
There still was one more step. Manning's notification meant the Broncos had exclusive negotiating rights to tweak and structure a contract that started with parameters of five years and $90 million. Once all suitors agreed in principle to contract terms, money was not an issue in Manning's decision.
Meanwhile, Manning called the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers, the other finalists who were trying to sign the NFL's only four-time MVP, to tell them he had picked the Broncos.
Pending reaching an agreement with Manning, the Broncos are tentatively planning a news conference to introduce him Tuesday afternoon, with owner Pat Bowlen presenting his jersey. Manning was considering talking to Frank Tripucka on Tuesday morning to seek his permission to wear No. 18, the same as he wore in Indianapolis, which was retired by the Broncos in honor of Tripucka, their first quarterback. Tripucka said last week he would be honored if Manning wears it.
"I tried to look at it objectively and not try to be biased toward my team, the Broncos," cornerback Champ Bailey said of the multiteam, 12-day-long Manning courtship. "But as I was putting it together, I always thought we had the best fit for somebody like him."
Why is that? Bailey said the Broncos had the most salary cap room. Denver's defense is promising, anchored by bookend pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The offensive line is a mix of youth and experience. Denver led the league in rushing last season.
- View slide show of Manning's introduction at Dove Valley.
- Follow timeline of Manning's journey as college, pro QB.
- View slide show of Peyton Manning through the years.
- Watch video of fan reaction to Peyton Manning choosing Denver.
- Evaluate Manning's career stats.
- Watch video of Rockies icon Todd Helton commenting on Manning.
- View slide show of Mannings as a football family through the years.
"And it doesn't hurt that Brandon Stokley lives here, John Lynch lives here," Bailey said, referring to the former Broncos and friends of Manning.
San Francisco? The 49ers' coach, Jim Harbaugh, runs a West Coast offense, and Manning is not a West Coast type of quarterback.
Fox told Manning during his visit to the Broncos headquarters on March 9 that Manning would be in total control of Denver's no-huddle, pass-moving offense. Fox will worry about the defense.
Tennessee? Manning played his college ball in Knoxville, and his wife grew up in Memphis, but that wasn't enough to sway him.
"The only thing that kind of worried me was the whole Tebow thing," Bailey said. "But I assumed Peyton never got caught up in that."
The Tebow thing. Truth is, there is not all joy in Broncosville. Manning's arrival almost certainly will mean the end of incumbent quarterback Tim Tebow. A rare athlete who became a pop-culture sensation in 2011 because of his outspoken faith, linebacker-like playing style and incredible knack for pulling out wins in the final seconds, Tebow lifted the Broncos from their worst slump in more than 30 years to a playoff team in a span of eight weeks.
"Boo, Elway!" wrote one e-mailer Monday. "I'm finished with the Broncos!" wrote another.
But Manning's history of success is much longer and much more substantial. Manning alters the perception of the Broncos from a franchise that had won only two playoff games in the 13 seasons since Elway stepped away from his Hall of Fame playing career to one that is considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
If that seems a tad excessive, consider that in Manning's most recent nine-year playing period from 2002 to 2010, he led Indianapolis to an average record of 12-4. The Colts were 9-for-9 in playoff appearances. He was the MVP of the Colts' Super Bowl victory in the 2006 season and he led them to the Super Bowl in 2009. Then he got hurt, missed the entire 2011 season, and the Colts fell to the worst team in football.
Manning's era with the Colts is exhibit A of what one player can mean to a franchise.
"If he's healthy, I think he can bring us to one of the dominant organizations," Denver's Dumervil said.
Health issues are why Manning became available to the Broncos in the first place, and why expectations should be tempered.
In 13 seasons, Manning moved into third place on the all-time list of NFL quarterbacks in touchdown passes, completions and passing yardage. Brett Favre and Dan Marino are ranked 1-2 in each category.
But Manning missed his 14th season, in 2011, because of complications from four neck surgeries. The uncertainty of his health, a $28 million roster bonus that was due March 9, and the opportunity to select college phenom quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 draft pick led Colts owner Jim Irsay to release Manning on March 7.
After watching Manning's farewell news conference, Fox called for a staff meeting. The previous week, at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Fox had been telling his fellow coaches and executives how much Manning would make sense for the Broncos.
Manning visited the Broncos on March 9, and last Friday, a Denver contingent watched Manning throw at Duke University. Even if he's not quite Manning at full strength 2010, he was close enough to convince the Broncos he's healthy enough to change their franchise.
The oddsmakers are convinced. The Las Vegas Hilton and Casino moved the Broncos' odds of winning the Super Bowl from 60-1 in February to 10-1 on Monday. Only three teams — Green Bay, New England and New Orleans — have better odds.
"That goes with having a Hall of Fame quarterback," said Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler who has yet to play in a Super Bowl. "Regardless of what team he's on, he's going to raise expectations. At the same time, we can't get caught up in that.
"You don't win the Super Bowl in March. You win it throughout the season, working in the offseason. So we can't get caught up in it. We've got to hunker down and go to work just like everybody else."
Mike Klis: 303-954-1055 or firstname.lastname@example.org