During their Hall of Fame careers, Peyton Manning and John Lynch developed respect for each other's games during four matchups between the two from 2003-2006, including three while Lynch was with the Broncos.
Their friendship — which remains strong 15 years later — really took root away from the competitive atmosphere that accompanies a regular-season or playoff football game. In the sunshine in Honolulu, the two greats enjoyed the Pro Bowl, conversations about football — and a few mai tais.
"At Pro Bowls, I think our wives would tell you it was a little nauseating because we would sit there and talk football for hours — and drink mai tais for hours — as we shared our love for the game," Lynch said the morning after the announcement that he'd been elected to the Hall of Fame. "And really [I] just started to see that we have a lot of commonalities, as you do with so many people at the Pro Bowl. I got to know Peyton through that."
Manning was quick to remind Lynch that those conversations were funded by unsuspecting rookie Pro Bowlers. In 2005, after Lynch's trip to the AFC Championship with the Broncos, first-time Pro Bowler Brian Moorman footed the bill.
"What he forgot to mention was that those mai tais, we were putting them on whoever the rookie Pro Bowl participant was," Manning said. "We'd get his room number. … All those mai tais were getting bought by a [punter] for the Buffalo Bills. Moorman bought a lot of rounds for us one year."
The two would end up with far more in common than a mutual interest in talking football and drinking cocktails. During the course of those conversations — and the years that followed — Manning and Lynch developed a friendship built on mutual respect and passion for the game. That, of course, makes it special for the two that they'll be enshrined alongside each other this summer and that their busts will be featured in the same section of the Hall of Fame.
"[I] admired and respected him obviously as a player," Lynch said. "But really his passion for the game is what linked us. And then we started sharing a lot of things. Our families and everybody got to know each other. I would imagine this is special whatever class you go in. I've been waiting for a while. Kind of like playing a Super Bowl in my hometown of San Diego, I feel like this is just meant to be that we're here in Tampa. … Peyton has become a tremendous friend and has always been a guy I rely on for advice when I'm making big decisions. I think he's done the same. There's Hall of Famers and then there's guys like Peyton who are some of the greatest players ever to play. It's an honor to go with him for sure."
Added Manning: "The fact that John and I have a special friendship, and the fact that he and I received this news the same year, I'm very honored by that to be with him along with all the other inductees this year."
Of course, their friendship was aided in large part by coincidental trajectories that saw them both end Hall of Fame careers with four years in Denver. Five years after Lynch's own four-year stint in Denver ended, Manning embarked on his own tenure with the Broncos. Both players long imagined playing their entire career for one franchise, but injuries played a role in leading each of them to Denver.
"Coming to Denver, it was an anxious period of time coming off an injury, learning new teammates, new coaches, a lot of the same things that Tom Brady's having to go through right now," Manning said. "I was nervous not knowing how it would play out. But Denver and the Broncos organization — John Elway, John Fox, Mr. [Pat] Bowlen — I remember having a couple conversations with him that first year, even though his health was declining. Everybody made me feel welcome, and that was really helpful in this kind of transition period for this second chapter of my career. Just felt really lucky to play four wonderful years there, be a part of another championship tam. As I've said many times, it's not what I wanted, because I always wanted to play for the team that drafted me — which I think every player should shoot for that goal, and not many get to do it. John Elway got to do it, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, my brother Eli got to do it. But things happen, injuries come into play and you've got to find somewhere else to play. Denver was the best place for me, and I'm really proud of my time there with the Denver Broncos."
Lynch said despite his similar desire to remain with the franchise that drafted him, he viewed his time in Denver as an opportunity that could "reignite" him.
"You get in a comfort zone, even though you try with all your power not to get in a comfort zone," Lynch said. "But driving to work, it's different. It kind of wakes up your senses. … It was such a great place to live, such a first-class organization, Pat Bowlen, Mike Shanahan, [Director of Sports Medicine Steve "Greek" Antonopulos] who's been there. They just did things right. Mr. Bowlen was such a tremendous man, and he was all about winning and he was all about facilitating anything it took to win. He was an owner that was there all the time but wasn't doing people's jobs for them. He was just there to let you know he cared and wanted to do everything he could to win. It was such a great move for myself and my family. Our kids were really raised there. And then from [a] football [standpoint], we unfortunately didn't win a world championship. We got to an AFC Championship — myself and my teammates — and we came close. It was four great years, and I'm so thankful to the Broncos and everybody in Denver for making it such a wonderful place."
While Lynch and the 2005 team didn't earn a Super Bowl XL appearance, they did carry Denver to its first AFC Championship game in seven years. The Broncos then waited another eight years before they returned to that stage in January of 2014. Manning, of course, was able to make a pair of Super Bowls and cap his career with a Super Bowl 50 win.
The two competitors who capped their illustrious careers in Denver will now enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame together. And while the announcement of their election didn't become official until Saturday, the pair of friends were able to celebrate a few days early. Coincidentally, Lynch, Manning, Eli Manning and a mutual friend had a golf trip planned days after Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker surprised them with the news.
"Once John and I both got the news, I sort of called him and I said, 'Hey, John, anything new with you these past couple days?'' Manning said. "And he's like, 'Yeah, maybe. Anything new with you?' And I said, 'Yeah.'
"So we kind of acknowledged we'd both received this knock on the door. It really was a fun golf trip. Got to be there with Eli and kind of have a little quiet celebration. Nobody else could tell why we were drinking some champagne and having some toasts."
Perhaps there are more more mai tais and champagne in the future for Manning and Lynch. At the very least, a couple of gold jackets are coming soon.