The stage had been gloriously set for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Every monkey that had supposedly ever occupied space on No. 18’s back would soon be lifted and driven back to the nearest New Jersey zoo.
All Denver had to do was defeat an upstart Seattle squad still thought to be two or three years from its prime in ideal football conditions and the mantle would be his.
Greatest. Quarterback. Ever.
In case you’re wondering, that was the sound of the pigskin whizzing past Manning’s right earhole 12 seconds into the Broncos’ 43-8 no-show at Super Bowl XLVIII.
It also represents a slight hint of air leaking out of Manning’s football legacy, so stop blaming the blimp hovering lazily above New York’s MetLife Stadium on Sunday for those suspicious sounds.
Deep within the rubble of one of the least watchable of the 48 Super Bowls is, at least for the upcoming 11 or 12 months, the reality of Manning being viewed as the greatest regular-season quarterback ever.
Of course, with this comes the unfortunate tag of being a flop in the postseason — fair or not.
Now before Colts fans go about making confetti for one massive pity party for the former Indianapolis QB, let’s assess Manning from angles other than whether he’s the greatest, second-greatest and so on to ever take a snap from center.
Manning gets into Canton on the first ballot and continues the cash-flow gravy train as a post-retirement public speaker, endorser, “Saturday Night Live” host, football commentator and potential business mogul.
The guy has had a fantastic life. It’s only going to get better as he carts his way around challenging 18-hole layouts here and abroad as a man in his 40s, 50s, 60s and hopefully beyond.
Best of all, he’ll do so without the benefit of artificial knees.
So what if history ultimately considers him fourth or fifth on the all-time list behind Joe Montana, Tom Brady and perhaps an old-timer like Colts’ legend John Unitas?
There are larger tragedies in life. Big picture, folks. Big picture.
Manning turns 38 next month and, as Sunday’s vulture-like swarm of the Seahawks so clearly demonstrated, he looks it.
He’s not spiraling lasers to between-the-numbers landing spots with the frequency of his prime. The touch, while still good in spots, isn’t as dependable, either, as Manning has begun to wobble his throws.
In no way am I suggesting Manning retire from football and begin writing that first chapter of the rest of his years.
The man who brought him to Denver, Broncos President John Elway, was 37 when he won his first Super Bowl and 38 when he won his second.
Peyton Manning with the right parts around him can do this.
If he does, fabulous. It’s a feather in the cap for a good human being from a great family who just also happens to be a pretty darned terrific football player.
If not, Peyton Manning will be just fine. Bank on it.
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.