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Russell Wilson not shying away from Broncos' quarterback legacy, details Peyton Manning's impact on his route to Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Just shy of 10 years ago, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback began the next chapter of his Hall of Fame career.

After a more than a decade playing for the team that drafted him, Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in 2012 and began a four-year career that put him alongside John Elway in the team's quarterback pantheon.

Following years of searching for a successor to Manning, the Broncos introduced Russell Wilson as their next quarterback on Wednesday — and he arrives in Denver amid similar circumstances.

Like Manning, Wilson spent a decade with his original team before choosing to join the Broncos. And while Wilson joined Denver via a trade rather than free agency, he also opted for the Broncos as his destination. As Wilson noted Wednesday, he would not have waived his no-trade clause for just any team, and the Broncos stood out as a place he could win.

Wilson, as Manning did before him, arrives in Denver with a slew of Pro Bowl nods — 11 for Manning and nine for Wilson — and a Super Bowl title. He has the most wins in NFL history through his first 10 seasons, leading Manning by just one victory. And, perhaps most importantly, he aims to add to his legacy.

In Denver, Manning led the Broncos to four division titles, a pair of conference championships and a Super Bowl title. In those four years, he set single-season NFL records, won an MVP award and notched himself in the Broncos' history books.

Wilson, who said he hopes to play 10 to 12 more years and win multiple Super Bowls, did not shy away from the expectations that come from following Elway and Manning in Denver.

"Why would you want it any other way?" Wilson said Wednesday. "I want to compete at the highest level." 

But Elway and Manning are more than high-water marks for Wilson to strive toward. Manning, in particular, has long been a standard for Denver's new quarterback.

When Wilson was in high school, Manning served as one of his coaches at the Manning Passing Academy. Then, during his pre-draft visit to Denver in 2012, he encountered Manning in the locker room, not long after the future Hall of Famer signed in Denver.

"It was my last [pre-draft] visit," Wilson said. "… I came into the locker room and there was one guy in the locker room, one person. That was Peyton Manning, and he was in his playbook, looking at his playbook, highlighting. And I walked up to him. About halfway, before I got to him, he kind of stood up and he goes, 'Don't I know you from somewhere?' Started laughing and shook my hand. He said, 'Russell, man, I remember coaching you from way back then.' And so those kind of memories, it's an honor, it's a tradition. It's a place of excellence. And I think that's the standard that I have to bring every day. That's the only thing I know."

Wilson relied on Manning once more as he made his decision to waive his no-trade clause for the Broncos. Manning answered questions about the city and local schools, but he also shared with Wilson what he learned during his time with the organization.

"The biggest thing was that this is a winning organization," Wilson said of his conversations with Manning. "That was the biggest thing. I want to win. Obviously we know that from the outside perspective, but when you're internal and living it every day as a quarterback and you have this look to every day and people to lead you, you want to make sure [of] that question — and without a doubt. He loves it here and still lives here today. … I [also] asked him about the players. Once this thing was real, just over the past couple of days, I've kind of gotten to know that he really believes in these guys."

A decade after Manning made his decision, Wilson will now look to settle in with a new organization. And though Wilson said he believes great players must be highly consistent, they must also be experts at making adjustments. In Denver, Wilson will look to adjust to his new reality — one that he hopes is full of high-level play.

When Manning was in Denver, his 2013 season was perhaps the finest of his career. He earned MVP honors as he threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and also set a single-season yardage mark. Wilson, 33, believes his peak could be ahead of him, as well.

"I think some of the best quarterbacks of all time, their best years are that 30-to-40 range, -to-[40]-plus range," Wilson said. "As you can obviously see with Tom [Brady] coming back and Drew [Brees] with as long as he played and different guys as long as they've played. So to me, I haven't even gotten started yet."

Should Wilson play for anywhere close to a decade in Denver and accomplish even a few of his stated goals, he'll likely cement himself as one of the greatest in franchise history. And in an ideal world, he would join Elway and Manning in both the team's Ring of Fame and in bringing a Lombardi Trophy back to Denver.

Those expectations may seem lofty — and perhaps beyond reach — in March of 2022. They may have seemed similarly hopeful when Manning was introduced as a Bronco 10 years ago.

When Wilson takes his first snap at Empower Field at Mile High, he'll simply need to look toward the fifth-level facade or the top of the south stands to see visual reminders of what can be accomplished. Their names are emblazoned on the Ring of Fame, and their numbers and Lombardi Trophies are printed on the south-side placards.

In Denver, it may seem easy to fall under Elway's and Manning's shadows.

Wilson will simply look to join them.

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