DENVER **-- On the eve of his brother's dazzling performance in the Broncos' 26-16 win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Cooper Manning texted younger sibling Peyton with a simple, yet unmistakable piece of wisdom.
"When you know you don't have a ton of them left, you really kind of soak it up and it sinks in," Cooper said. "That was my advice to Peyton yesterday. I texted, 'Have fun. Have fun tomorrow. This is what it's all about.'"
If Peyton's performance against the Patriots was any indication, older brother's advice was well-heeded.
The Broncos quarterback completed 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a radiant Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, earning the third Super Bowl berth of his storied career – and doing it in a fashion only befitting of Peyton's immeasurable passion for football.
"It looked like he was having fun today," Cooper said.
Considering that less than two years ago – after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury and undergoing several surgeries to repair the injury – there was no shortage of uncertainty as to whether he would ever even play a down of football again, there was a plenty of reason for Peyton to savor it.
Plenty of reason for Peyton, and plenty of reason for his father, Archie, and his siblings, Cooper and Eli – all of whom were on hand for Peyton's performance on Sunday.
"We didn't know. We didn't know," Archie said regarding the uncertainty of whether Peyton would ever be able to return to football. "He was at peace with it and we were at peace with it. Still, we just think it's such a blessing that he's been able to come back and play. And that's just part of it. Landing in a new town with a new team and new players – for it to come to this is really special."
Special for the Broncos – and special for the Mannings, who had a family reunion for the books after Eli made a surprise trip to Denver for the game, returning the favor after Peyton surprised Eli by attending the Giants' win in the 2011 NFC Championship Game.
"Cooper can't go to all the games and, of course, Eli and Peyton – they don't really do that much," Archie said. "But two years ago, we didn't think Peyton was coming to San Francisco for the (NFC) Championship Game and he showed up. Somebody came and told me and said, 'Peyton is down in Commissioner Goodell's suite.' He just showed up with some Indy guys and didn't tell us, didn't tell Eli anything. So Eli kind of did that today, too."
Being there in person to support Peyton made the win perhaps even sweeter, but it certainly didn't make the road to get there on Sunday any easier for the Mannings – particularly for Archie.
"My dad is the most nervous person in the whole stadium, no question. But now he's the happiest," Cooper said, cracking a smile. "Before the game, I could ask my dad, 'Dad, can I borrow a dime?' And he would punch me in the face. Now I can probably hit him up for a Mercedes and he'd buy me two."
"I could have been," Archie responded when asked if he was the most nervous person in the stadium. "I pace a lot. I look for a lucky spot. I had to walk out of the suite. I was down – out in the hall, there is nothing but radio. Getting ready for (the Patriots' fourth-quarter onside kick attempt), I realized I was in the same spot I was last week for the onside kick and I said, 'I've got to move.' I've got to get out of here, I can't be in this spot."
If there's one person who didn't appear nervous, however, it was Peyton – as the quarterback helped the Broncos convert 21 first downs through the air and finish the game with a 7-for-13 mark on third downs. And he did it wearing his love for the game on his sleeve.
"Peyton still has a young kid in the front yard attitude about football," Cooper said. "I think people that love it, that's the way they are. That's the way he is."
Manning's looseness during the game – and the week of preparation – even caused his other brother to proffer that the 16-year pro is finally, well, coming of age.
"He's growing up, finally," Cooper joked. "He's finally getting a little more mature. I'm proud of him for that. He's been kind of an adolescent for his whole life. I'm glad he's growing up."
Ultimately, it was a special afternoon for father and sons – not just for the Mannings, however, but for every parent of all 53 men on the Broncos roster.
"Obviously we're proud of Peyton, but I'm just like all the other parents of the Broncos," Archie said. "We're proud of our child – for going to a Super Bowl."
And even after attending four previous Super Bowls between the careers of Peyton and Eli, the significance of heading to number five was anything but downplayed by Archie.
"I don't know besides Peyton and (wide receiver) Wes (Welker) who else has been there on this team. I can't think if there is anybody else," Archie said. "It's special now. It's special for these guys. The city, of course, has experienced this before, but it's been a little while. It's special – I've always admired the way that Bronco fans love their team."
It was a win that Broncos fans will surely cherish. And one that father advised son – Cooper wasn't the only one giving advice – to cherish as well.
"One of my favorite things to tell him is, 'Enjoy the journey,'" Archie said. "I tell him that all the time. Enjoy the journey. And it's been a good journey. It's been a good journey. We've always got some highs, some lows and some hiccups. But it's been a good journey."
That journey continues for Peyton – and for the Broncos – for one game more this season. And, as the team prepares to embark on its final chapter two weeks from now in New York, Archie briefly summarized his feelings – and the feelings of Broncos fans everywhere – about what Peyton and the Broncos have accomplished.
"Well," he said. "Proud. Proud."