The formerly Elway-worshiping media is saying a lot of things right now, but no one seems to be admitting the inconvenient truth: the Peyton Manning experiment was a failure. John Elway’s brainchild – his stroke of genius, his big gamble – was a flop. The goal of bringing in Manning was not to go 13-3 or break regular season records; it was to win a Super Bowl. Everyone knew it from the start. Elway thought to himself, “If a no-talent scrub like Tim Tebow could take this team to the second round of the playoffs, imagine what a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning could do!”
And so Elway drove a dynamic young talent out of town, brought Manning aboard, and to his credit did a pretty good job of overhauling the team. Whereas Tebow’s sub-par supporting cast consisted of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Matt Willis, Daniel Fells, Lance Ball, and Willis McGahee, Manning got to play with Thomas, Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme, a fully rehabbed Knowshon Moreno, and Montee Ball. There’s really no comparing what both quarterbacks had to work with; Peyton’s supporting cast was vastly superior. The defense also benefited from a lot of great new players from the draft and free agent market. With Peyton Manning swapped in for Tebow and a massively upgraded roster, the Broncos had the Super Bowl in the bag, right?
Wrong. Elway failed to consider that Peyton has no clutch gene and tends to break his fans’ hearts come postseason time. Furthermore, Elway failed to recognize the wisdom exercised by Colts GM Ryan Grigson, who understood that 10-15 years of playoff contention with Andrew Luck was more important to his team than 2-3 more years with Manning. (Even that 2-3 years was glaringly uncertain at the time, with Peyton coming off four neck surgeries.) The end of the Manning era and the start of the Luck era was bittersweet, but long-term stability with young talent is nothing to sneeze at… unless you’re John Elway, of course.
Tebow already had a winning record and a trip to the playoffs under his belt, not to mention two admirable performances on that playoff stage, so Elway really had no logical reason to think that Tebow couldn’t do it again. I’ve said it before: the Broncos should have rolled with Tebow instead of Manning. The Broncos wouldn’t have gone 13-3 and broken all sorts of records with Tebow at the helm, but they could have managed nine or ten wins and another division title. I also believe Tebow could have made a serious Super Bowl run for the same reasons I believed in Russell Wilson during his Super Bowl run: poise and that unmistakable knack for CLUTCH PLAYMAKING. Some guys have it and most do not; it cannot be taught or coached. Certain players like Wilson rise to the occasion and play better when the pressure is higher, and Tebow always demonstrated that he was such a player. Shame on Elway for turning a blind eye to it all.
I refuse to let Elway off the hook so easily. Two years and forty million dollars later, what has Peyton Manning ultimately done for John Elway? Put on a flashy show in the regular season? Very cute. Elway’s foolish decisions will cripple the Broncos for years to come, and they may not recover for a very long time.