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Peyton Manning and the men who helped make him

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe it's a photographic memory. Or perhaps it's a microprocessor mind that allows for instant recollection of long-ago minutiae. Or it's the countless hours of study and repetition.

For Peyton Manning, all are among his primary assets as a quarterback. And they help explain not only his career, but a deep appreciation of the past, and the people who helped him reach this point.

Among those at the top of the list are two men who will spend this week plotting to topple Manning and the Broncos: Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and assistant head coach/offensive consultant Tom Moore.

When the Indianapolis Colts drafted Manning 16 years ago, Moore was the offensive coordinator and Arians the quarterbacks coach. Their task was to make Manning a franchise quarterback worthy of that year's top overall pick.

To put it mildly, mission accomplished. Manning admits today he is "indebted" to both of them.

Manning, Moore and Arians share a variety of traits, chief among them honesty, intelligence and persistence. "Good" was not good enough. Their triumvirate was perfect for making Manning what he became.

Moore, as the Colts' offensive coordinator, endured. For the first 13 years of Manning's career, they worked together, creating some of the most dynamic offenses the league has ever seen.

"It's pretty rare for coordinator and a quarterback to stay that long together," Manning said. "People used to always tell both of us, 'Boy, you're lucky you got the same coordinator every year and they tell him you've got the same quarterback every year.'

"I think we both kind of say, 'Hey, if you call good plays and you play good quarterback, they're going to keep you.'"

Arians might have had the chance to linger if he'd taken it. But larger roles awaited for him, which led him to a head-coaching career that is already a phenomenal success. After the 2000 season, Arians left Indianapolis to become the Browns' offensive coordinator. He spent nine of the next 12 seasons as a coordinator for the Browns, Steelers, and finally, in 2012, the Colts.

Other quarterback coaches guided Manning, and added to the foundation laid by Arians. But to this day, Manning leans upon Arians' detailed instruction.

"He would coach me hard and I would kind of learn what I did wrong and I really used that experience and got a lot better my second year," Manning said. "So I'll be indebted to Bruce, as well. He taught me a lot of fundamentals in those first three years that I still use today."

The roles Arians and Moore have in Arizona are reversed from their Indianapolis days; now it's Moore who works as Arians' right-hand man. But their work remains impeccable. Their coaching of Carson Palmer and, now, Drew Stanton, further cements their status as quarterback whisperers.

Not that the self-deprecating Arians will admit to being a guru of the position. That was evident when he was asked about Manning's progress since Arians left the Colts after the 2000 season.

"He's gotten a lot smarter," Arians said. "He overcame my coaching, that's for sure."

Manning's willingness to take himself down a peg matches Arians when the subject of his rookie season arises. The quarterback is quick to mention the NFL rookie record for interceptions that he set in 1998 -- "which anytime one of these rookies wants to break it, I'm all for it," he added.

But Manning's growth that year was obvious. In the second half of the season, his quarterback rating was 13.6 points higher, his touchdown-to-interception ratio had nearly flipped (from 11-to-16 to 15-to-12), his yardage per attempt increased by 0.2 yards and his completion percentage rose by 3.2 percent.

"You knew he was going to be a great player—that turnaround he made from the first eight games to the second [half of his rookie season], let alone the first year to the second year," Arians said. "You saw the greatness coming."

Arians also saw the mental edge that Manning had. His rapacity for devouring data led Arians to call Manning "the piranha" this week.

"You can't give him enough information. I mean, he eats it up," Arians said. "If you had an hour-and-a-half meeting scheduled with him, you'd better have two and a half hours of material ready, because he was going to eat through it so fast and be able to give it back to you."

For Manning, that was -- and is -- the only way to operate.

"When you come in as a rookie, I think that's a good approach to have, to ask a lot of questions and try to learn as much as you can," Manning said.

"During the good times and the bad times of my first year with Bruce, it was tough. We only won three games. But the next two years we went to the playoffs and we turned it around, and I think (it was) because I asked a lot of questions and Bruce gave me honest answers, as did Tom.

"So I guess one thing I do fairly well is I can recall conversations and answers to questions from a long time ago and situations, and I think that helps you as a quarterback when you can refer to something that happened years ago."

And the "piranha" nickname?

"I take it as a compliment," Manning said.

"Peyton the piranha." It has a ring to it. But it might not be something you could say today without Arians and Moore challenging Manning to extract everything possible from his talent and skills.

They were the right brains together at the right time, and the history of the quarterback position in the NFL is changed because of it.

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