Two years ago, from his spot in the risers at the Canton Memorial Civic Center, Peyton Manning watched as Champ Bailey slipped on the uniform that he too will someday wear: the gold jacket that only members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame receive.
Sitting next to him was his son, Marshall, former Broncos safety Steve Atwater and Atwater's wife, Letha. And as they watched Bailey bask in his moment, Manning paid close attention.
Two years later, the former Broncos quarterback will enjoy the same experience, but for all he witnessed, he still doesn't know how he'll react when that moment hits him.
"I can tell that was a special night," Manning said Wednesday. "I can see the looks on the faces of Champ Bailey putting that jacket on. And you truly are becoming a member of a new team. I think that's the great thing about football; you played on so many different teams, and that's what I loved about it. Right? It wasn't an individual sport. It was a team sport. And so you're certainly joining a new team, and it seemed like there was a great fraternity there amongst the previous inductees."
In just a matter of weeks, Manning will don a gold jacket of his own — as will Atwater, coincidentally.
Joining this new team brings all the other festivities, too: the parade through Canton, the celebratory parties with family and friends, the unveiling of the bronze bust and, of course, the enshrinement speech.
That particular part of this initiation process may be one of the more highly anticipated elements for Manning's enshrinement. His retirement speech in 2016 was a classic of the genre, and from the hints he dropped on Wednesday, his upcoming speech for the honor of entering the Hall of Fame may be another great one.
The Hall of Fame former Raiders coach John Madden likes to say he believes that the busts in the Hall talk to one another at night, when the museum is empty. Manning said he believes that too, and perhaps not just that.
"I'm going to kind of allude to it in my speech, and so I'll probably make you wait a couple weeks to hear it, but I think they do more than just talk at night," Manning said. "I think maybe they play some games in there, maybe do a little one on one, a little seven on seven. I've had a couple of dreams about being in there and being in these scrimmages against some of these Hall of Famers. It's just a dream right now. Obviously in August it'll be a reality."
When he makes his speech, the Super Bowl 50 champion and five-time league MVP will have to rely on the trait that always served him well during his playing career: his timing.
Manning said the Hall has emphasized the importance of not going over the allotted time, considering the number of enshrines this year after last year's ceremonies were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In anticipation of that, Manning has already begun timing his speech. He's clocked it right at seven minutes and 50 seconds — just 10 seconds short of when they'll send someone onstage to begin the applause that will end overly long orators, Manning said.
The inductees themselves have talked to one another about honoring that commitment, too, Manning said. After all, they're all be part of the same team soon, and who wants to upset any of your new teammates?
Truly, that part — being on this different kind of team together — is what Manning has most keenly anticipated, especially given his understanding of and appreciation for the history of football.
From a young age, Manning grew that knowledge in part because of his father, Archie, who himself was a great quarterback, as any Manning fan knows already. Archie would tell him about the greats of the game while he was playing in the NFL, as well as the ones he watched when he was a boy.
Within Manning grew a love for the game and all the people who helped make it what it was, and that helped make him who he is.
"He never was my coach, by any means," Manning said. "But he's certainly had the greatest impact on my football life, more than anybody. … I definitely grew up around football. My dad was always making a point to include us, to let us come to practice, took us to Hawaii to the Pro Bowl. That was important for him. I had no idea I was going to end up having the same career, but it definitely had a big impact."
For all those things and so much more, Manning picked Archie to be his presenter during the week of enshrinement.
The idea that he is the product of much more than himself is something that Manning holds dear, and not just the people who form a football team.
A lot of people feel connected to Manning, and he knows that when he enters the Hall of Fame, he's not doing it alone. Every person he's impacted in the community, everyone he's impacted just as a fan — he's riding on their shoulders.
"I think the nice thing about going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is you go in and you take a lot of people with you," Manning said. "You take a lot of teams with you. You don't go in by yourself. For me, taking Louisiana and Indiana and Tennessee and Colorado, all those people with me, that's important to me."
During Super Bowl LV, the NFL honored the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021 — including John Lynch and Peyton Manning — as part of the festivities.