ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Promise is likely now somewhere on the list.
With the franchise's record-tying eighth trip to the Super Bowl already booked, John Elway’s declaration to Peyton Manning in 2012 is wedged into the list of historical references that includes Orange Crush, The Helicopter, T.D., Back-to-Back, This one’s for Floyd Little, Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan.
The Denver Broncos are in their second Super Bowl in three seasons, and have won five consecutive division titles -- four since Manning joined the team. The Broncos are 50-14 in those four years.
And it has all gone almost according to the plan Elway presented to Manning during the quarterback’s free-agency tour in 2012. At the time, Elway looked across the desk and promised, "I would do everything in my power" to make sure Manning finished his career "the way I finished mine."
Most every kid with a jersey in the Rocky Mountain region knows the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls in Elway’s final two seasons in 1998 and '99. The Broncos went to the Super Bowl to finish the 2013 season and were routed 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks, but they are back, one step away from another Lombardi Trophy.
“I think the big thing is we have to win it," Elway said. "It’s going to be a tremendous add to Peyton’s legacy, but also to the Broncos' legacy. I think it is important, we’ve given ourselves an opportunity, so hopefully we have saved our best for last."
Elway has done "everything in my power" to make it happen including changing coaching staffs after four AFC West titles. Since Manning's arrival, the Broncos have added homegrown players like running back C.J. Anderson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, defensive end Malik Jackson, center Matt Paradis and cornerback Bradley Roby. They opened the checkbook in free agency for the likes of linebacker DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety Darian Stewart, among others.
All the while, even as the Broncos set the league’s single-season scoring record in 2013 (606 points), Elway had an eye cast toward building a team like the 2015 Broncos. The first pick of the five drafts Elway has overseen have been defensive players. All five of those players -- Von Miller, Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Roby and Shane Ray -- start or play significant snaps for the league’s No. 1 defense. And now Manning is on a team that doesn’t have him in the hub of the wheel.
The Broncos were No. 1 in total defense this season, No. 1 in pass defense, No. 1 in sacks, No. 3 in run defense and No. 4 in scoring defense. And the team was 7-0 in games when the Broncos had at least 130 yards rushing.
"Last five drafts, our first picks have been defense," Elway said. "So that’s always been a concentration [the] last five years. Try to find those guys and be able to stop people. ... Even two years ago [in the Super Bowl], we played good enough, it wasn’t we were lacking on defense. ... There’s always a transition period, because unfortunately these great quarterbacks get older."
Manning’s overall effect on the franchise and his teammates has been undeniable. Even this season, when Manning missed seven starts with a left foot injury, the prospect of his return and the Broncos’ chances of reaching Super Bowl 50 were always at the forefront.
“Peyton, he just delivers confidence. You have a conversation with him, you leave that conversation just feeling confident about whatever you’re fixing to do," Talib said. "Little things here and there that he gives me about the game, it definitely is appreciated."
Since Manning’s return to the lineup in the third quarter of the regular-season finale, the Broncos have won three times, Manning has not thrown an interception and the Broncos added their ninth, 10th and 11th wins of the season by seven or fewer points.
And Elway said, through it all, the playoffs require a quarterback to be ready at any moment to make a difference, even for a team built as the Broncos are now built.
“We’ve tried to ... help Peyton out, still use what Peyton does and does best," Elway said. “But you look at all these playoff games ... there is a play made by a quarterback in those games that helps those teams win. You can go through each of them ... there’s a big play in every game that a quarterback has to make in playoff football that kind of makes the difference."