Peyton Manning could have gone anywhere and worked with anyone while he rehabbed from neck surgery last year.
But Manning chose to work with one of the people he trusts the most.
Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune details the lengths Manning went to rehab on his terms with trusted confidante David Cutcliffe at Duke University, showing both his loyalty and desire to keep things quiet.
Cutcliffe was Manning’s college offensive coordinator at Tennessee, and Duke’s indoor facility was an off-the-beaten-path place to work.
“It was really kind of a fun experience for he and I both,” Manning said. “We kind of both got to go back in time, if you will. I can’t thank him enough for sacrificing that time for me.”
After his third neck surgery on Sept. 8, 2011, Manning didn’t throw a football until late December, when he made the first of several trips to Durham, N.C. He stayed in a guest room at Cutcliffe’s home, and the Duke coach didn’t even tell his assistants who was dropping by.
“Our equipment people knew he was there,” Cutcliffe said, “and that was it.”
For months he’d work out quietly, with a few spare players.
In March, Cutcliffe put Manning through the most grueling workout, a recreation of his 2009 AFC Championship Game win over the Jets, replaying every play from that day.
Manning flew in former Colts teammates Jeff Saturday, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, current Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley and former Colts offense coordinator Tom Moore for the simulation.
“It was pretty impressive,” Stokley said. “It showed you exactly what kind of detail Peyton went to in trying to get back. Most people would never even think about doing something like that.”
After evaluating the tape of that practice, and comparing it side-by-side with the Jets game, Cutcliffe was able to pronounce Manning was back.
“He was on it,” Cutcliffe said. “Some throws were better than what he did before, with the amount of the velocity, the throws across the field. His conditioning, his legs were back.
“Afterward, guys were saying, ‘Dang! This is Peyton.'”
While it might be a bit of a stretch to say he looks like the old Peyton, he looks close enough to himself for the Broncos, thanks to the work Cutcliffe did during the winter.