He's a Hall-of-Fame-quarterback-in-waiting, the hub of their offensive wheel with a remember-when presence in and around their complex. And sometimes he is a 6-foot-5, 230 pound, 38-year-old reset button.
So, consider the Broncos reset after a 2-0 start in the preseason that has folks along the Front Range already buzzing about the possibilities in a regular season that is still weeks away. The Broncos have defeated the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, both expected NFC power brokers, in back-to-back preseason games. The starting offense has been on the field for four drives and scored on three of them.
Manning has looked regular-season sharp, though it is worth noting that nobody was game-planning for much of anything beyond the basics and both of their opponents held defensive starters out. It has looked good enough, though, that the narrative around the Broncos is that they seem ready for the regular season right now.
And much like when he stares down a defense, Manning doesn't go in without a plan, he doesn't lob a verbal salvo without specific intent. Like last season when Manning said folks could simply take "that narrative and stick it where the sun don't shine," after a week's worth of analysis on his play in cold weather led into the Broncos' 51-28 victory over the Tennessee Titans on a 15-degree day, Manning hit the reset once again Tuesday.
After the first of three practices against the Houston Texans this week, a practice when the teams were not in full gear -- shells, helmets and shorts -- Manning stepped off the field, put the team's offense on a spit and roasted it.
"I thought our offense stunk today," Manning said. "Their defense totally kicked our butt."
On the regular-season ready theory, Manning then added; "I think today that story ought to die. ... I kind of call it like I see it. When you have a pretty below average practice, you've got to call it a below average practice."
In reality the teams had a quality workout. Yet, the Broncos are fluent in Manning's body language, they know what's coming.
"I don't feel like we had our best day as a group, especially on the offensive side of the ball," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. " … It's our third year with him so we know when he's mad and we know what we have to do to make it better."
Sure, the touchdowns are spectacular, the offensive fireworks have already filled plenty of spots in the team's record book and Manning has led the Broncos to 26 wins in 32 regular-season starts. John Elway signed Manning for all of that.
But Elway has often made it clear he wanted to sign Manning for days like Tuesday. Elway has used the word "uncomfortable" when he describes what it takes at times to keep all of the eyes, some of them young, impressionable and wandering, on the prize.
He has often said players like Manning, or DeMarcus Ware on defense, "raise all boats" in an organization, including even some that may not even be in the locker room.
So, was Manning really saying the Broncos offense cannot handle the Texans defense after a single August practice with only middle-of-the-road contact as the bulk of the data?
No, what he was really saying is August is several calendar pages away from February and that there are miles to go before the Broncos can feel all that good about where they've been.