Jim Harbaugh

Peyton Manning picks the Denver Broncos, but why?

5:29 am, MST

Wife and I are driving a rented Corolla to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Both of us are three-quarters asleep. On the radio, Mike Golic says if Peyton Manning wants to win a Super Bowl, the best place to do that would be with the San Francisco 49ers.  Tennessee is also brought up as a possibility, if Manning is looking for adoration in a state he could own on a team where he supposedly has the opportunity to remain part of the organization for life. The Denver Broncos are barely mentioned.

9:53 am, PDT

The plane lands. I pulled out my phone, turned it on, and waited the interminable amount of time it takes for that sucker to fire up. Push a button here, swipe here, another button, another button, another swipe…

Huh, Peyton Manning picked the Denver Broncos over the Tennessee Titans and the San Francisco 49ers. How about that.

The whole way home I tried to figure out “why?” Why would Manning choose to make his comeback in one of the NFL’s coldest cities?  Thanks to a heads up from David Fucillo at Niners Nation, this tweet seemed as logical as anything I’ve read, been told, or thought of in my own challenged, little brain.

Tennessee actually has a 0% tax rate on income, but Packard points out that they also tax investments at 6% in the Volunteer State. As the richest player in the NFL over the last several years, investment income is relevant to Manning.

There are plenty of other theories people are bandying about that are worth mentioning (and I’m probably missing about, oh, 50 or so).

1. Peyton didn’t want to play in the same conference as brother Eli, especially considering the 49ers and Giants will play each other at least once in 2012.

2. The Broncos were the first of the finalists to show strong interest. As such, Manning wanted to play in Denver all along unless another team came along and convinced him otherwise.

3. Peter King took a break from writing 500-word passages on lattes to bring you this:

So King’s telling us this phone call could’ve taken place?

Manning: Hey Trent. Is Jim around?

Trent Baalke: PEYTON, HI! Sure, let me go get him…

(Baalke skips, jumps up and clicks his heels while covering the phone.)

Baalke: (Whispering incredibly fast) Jim, it’s Peyton! He wants to talk to you! Don’t bring up money, just talk about mighty men and the team the team the team and all that other Friday Night Lights stuff…

Harbaugh: Trent, just hand me the phone. I’ve got this. (Puts the phone to his ear) Mr. Manning! How are you on this fine Monday morning? Are you ready to march lockstep into battle and defend the fortress known as Candlestick Park with tone-setting physicality?

Baalke: (Using both hands, palms down, he repeatedly motions toward the floor in an effort to get Harbaugh to tone it down.)

Harbaugh: (Moves a hand over the phone’s mouthpiece. His eyes open twice as wide as before, as he mouths a harsh ‘SHHHH’ at Baalke.)

Manning: Hey Jim, I want to thank you and Trent and everyone over there in San Fran, but I’ve decided to sign with Denver.

Harbaugh: (Places phone against his thigh, looks to the side and clenches his right fist) ELWAY!

Manning: It’s nothing you guys did wrong, you have a first class organization and a great team, but Denver’s just a better fit for me right now.

Harbaugh: Fit? A better fit? I don’t follow. Explain your reasoning. I don’t understand exactly what the word “fit” means. Winning fits. Playing with unmitigated passion fits. My black sweatshirts and khaki pants fit. Educate me.

Manning: Well, to be honest … and if you could keep this quiet I’d appreciate it … but I’d kinda rather just go 12-4 and lose in the playoffs. The Super Bowl isn’t the be all, end all for me. Frankly, you seem a little bit nuts about winning a Super Bowl. Borderline scary. It isn’t that big a deal.

Harbaugh: Why do you play the game, Peyton? You’ve been to the mountaintop. You’ve experienced the best. Are you telling me you’ve feasted, and you’re now satisfied? Doesn’t your body, mind, heart, and physical being crave to taste what’s on that bountiful table, piled high with the finest meats and cheeses, once again?

Manning: I don’t know, I already have a Super Bowl, and it’s not really worth it financially to play a lot of extra games against good defenses, you know? If I get to the Super Bowl and lose, I’m screwed. If I get to the Super Bowl, lose and get hurt, double-screwed. Let Brady handle that pressure, I don’t want to come to San Francisco and have those expectations.

(And … SCENE.)

Really? That’s why he didn’t come to San Francisco? His brother, the opportunity to play golf regularly with John Elway and/or too much Super Bowl pressure?

Nah, it was probably the money.

The Broncos have the most salary cap room (over twice what the 49ers currently have available), and Manning could go to the place with the least amount of pressure, Denver, and earn that paper. To those who question the idea that money is Manning’s top priority, have you watched television commercials over the past decade?

From CNN:

Among the products (Manning) has pitched in the past are MasterCard, Papa John’s Pizza, DirecTV, as well as Kraft’s Oreo cookies and PepsiCo’s Gatorade.

Don’t forget Sony, Reebok, Wheaties, Nerf…

Maybe after following this story for the past week, the money-theory is the easiest way to cope with Manning choosing higher pastures. Because the idea that Manning — a man who looks up to several quarterbacks as a postseason performer but looks up to no one as an endorser — took the route of financial security means maybe he was never meant to come to the 49ers.

If King’s “Source in SF” is telling the truth, Manning actually has a point. His arrival here wouldn’t have guaranteed a Super Bowl, even though the Niners were the most talented team bidding for his services. Even with this team, these coaches, this defense and new wide receivers, the Niners could’ve easily fallen short due to injury along the way or key mistakes in an important game (such as a fumbled punt or an interception thrown by, well, Manning).

That’s fine. If Manning goes against his own instincts and makes the Super Bowl, and that opponent is the Niners? I can think of only three words…


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