SANTA CLARA, Calif. --The road the Broncos took to Super Bowl 50 is not one they expected to take with Peyton Manning as their quarterback.
This was a season unlike any that Manning has experienced. His foot bothered him for a while before he left the Nov. 15 loss to the Chiefs because of a torn plantar fascia. He threw eight more interceptions than touchdowns in the regular season. He served as the second-string quarterback for a week leading into the regular-season finale before Head Coach Gary Kubiak put him back in the lineup with the team in need of "a spark" with a 13-7 deficit caused by five turnovers.
And now, he has an experience unlike one any other quarterback has had. No quarterback has ever started in the Super Bowl at age 39.
And that's just the beginning of Manning's unique collection of accomplishments.
No quarterback has ever started two Super Bowls at age 37 or older. No quarterback ever had the season-long numbers that Manning had in 2013 -- let alone doing it at age 37, as he did in setting league single-season records for yardage and touchdown passes.
No quarterback has ever gone to a Super Bowl with four different head coaches.
No quarterback has ever guided multiple teams to multiple Super Bowls, either. That ensures that when Manning retires, he will be thought of not just as a Colt, but as a Bronco. It also means that the Manning Era in Denver is a clear success, no matter what happens Sunday.
"When we signed Peyton, (there was) a sense of urgency," said outside linebacker Von Miller. "We got one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the National Football League and he's on our team right now. So, when we got him, we already knew what type of team we were and we knew what type of football we could play.
"Having him now, we just want to seal the deal."
The rumors regarding Manning's future are rampant; no matter what he says at press conferences, he is relatively powerless to stop them.
This is the reality of being in the spotlight of the most-watched annual single-day sporting event in the Western Hemisphere (unless the Champions League final is in London, west of the Prime Meridian).
But the Broncos know the reality of contracts, age, accumulated wear and tear and a plantar fascia injury that will not heal without rest, surgery -- or possibly both.
The sense of urgency that has existed since Manning arrived with "No Plan B," as John Elway famously put it, increases exponentially Sunday. Far more than a Super Bowl is on the line; the legacy and place in history of Manning are, too. Win Sunday, and Manning's case as the greatest quarterback of all time will be compelling given his singular collection of team and individual accomplishments.
"If this was Peyton's last game, I know he'd want to play it like his last," said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. "It's been a motto of all the guys each week, play every play like it's your last.
"If it is, we have to send him off right and you know that you're going to get a game that probably nobody has seen. I'm looking forward to it."
Seven Broncos offered seven more thoughts on Manning as Super Sunday approaches: