Manning and Cutcliffe: A Partnership

This week, Peyton Manning held his annual workouts at Duke University under the direction of coach David Cutcliffe. MHH Analyst Jake Marsing spotlights the unique relationship this player and coach have.

Quarterback Peyton Manning is an intensely private man. It has been exactly 1,108 days since he signed his contract with the Denver Broncos. Yet, fans in Denver know as little about the five-time MVP’s personality today, as they did three years ago. Manning is almost never seen in public, with the expectation of the odd charity event, or Rockies game.

While he maintains a friendly, almost genial exterior, Manning is in reality a calculating, ferocious competitor. Rarely do fans know something about Peyton Manning that Peyton Manning doesn’t want them to know. He’s obsessed with achieving football perfection. It drives him, it consumes him, and from time to time, it destroys him.

Some of the men Manning has played with in the last eighteen years have been turned off by his personality. Running back C.J. Anderson said in a radio interview during the Broncos pre-playoff bye week that he was, “going to turn off my phone for the week. 18’s great, but he can grind on you.”

Manning can be a demanding, nagging, shrew of a quarterback. Just ask the Broncos scoreboard operator. Yet, it’s that same methodical drive that’s made him into one of the greatest professional athletes of all time.

Which Player Is The Broncos Best 2015 Free Agent Signing? SOUND OFF IN THE FORUMS!

Few have ever been able to truly connect with Peyton Manning. He keeps a close circle of family and friends. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star covered Manning for a decade and a half. Kravitz once described the process of trying to bond with Peyton as a, “laborious, and often exhausting ordeal for new players.”

Manning puts notes in the lockers of receivers who drop passes, or lineman who miss blocks. And, as anyone who’s gone out to a Broncos practice in the last three years will tell you, he curses like a sailor.

His relationship with coaches since he’s been in the NFL has almost never been that of a traditional player and coach. Starting in his third season in Indianapolis, when Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore devised the now trademark audible-heavy, pass-first offense, the relationship between Peyton and his coaches has been more like that of two equal partners than that of a teacher and pupil. There’s only one man who has ever really been able to coach Peyton Manning. His name is David Cutcliffe.

For the four years Manning spent at the University of Tennessee, Cutcliffe was his guiding light. Manning was a well-off kid from Louisiana in a new city. He possessed a mountain of talent, but had plenty of holes in his game. Cutcliffe was his offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. If Peyton Manning has ever thrown a pass that wowed you, or left you in silent awe, you can thank the man he calls “Coach Cut.”

In an interview with “60 Minutes Sports” filmed this time last year, Manning expressed the utmost admiration for Cutcliffe. “Really, he’s always been my coach,” Manning said. “Every golfer goes back to that swing coach who taught him to play. For me, that’s been Coach Cut.” Their relationship is one of comfort, and familiarity. So, when Manning faced the greatest crisis of his career, he naturally turned to Cutcliffe.

In May 2011, Peyton Manning woke up in a Chicago hospital room. He’d gone for the third of what would eventually be four procedures to correct a herniated disk in his neck that had caused him pain for a decade. When Manning tried to hoist himself up in the bed, his right arm collapsed under his weight.

The now surgically repaired disk had been pinching Manning’s supraclavicular nerve. When the tension was released, it caused severe weakness in his throwing arm. Not an ideal situation for a quarterback.

For weeks, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game did not have the strength in his right hand to grip a football. It would be two months, and one final surgery later before Manning tried to throw.

His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. In the summer of 2011, the NFL and its player’s association were locked in a heated arbitration fight. Manning didn’t have access to the trainers in Indianapolis he’d worked with for nearly fourteen years. So, he placed a call to another one of the few individuals who’ve been able to connect with him, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

That first post-surgery pass came in lower downtown Denver, a city Manning was largely unfamiliar with. Somewhere in the bowels of Coors Field following a Rockies game, Todd Helton stepped ten yards back, Peyton lifted the ball to his ear, and fired. “It nose-dived after about five yards,” Manning told the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins. The greatest pure passer in NFL history could not throw the football.

He’d spend the next month desperately trying to regain his All-Pro form on his own. He threw the ball in his backyard with wife Ashely, and Brother Eli. He went to physical therapy. None of it seemed to help. Yet, he held out hope for a miracle.

In a sit down with David Letterman last year, Manning joked about his frustration with the pace of his recovery, “They’d tell you that the nerve could come back to 100% at any time,” Manning said, “So, every day, I’d wake up excited, thinking that today was going to be the day…I’d be awful disappointed around noon.” It got to the point where Manning considered retirement. That is, until he called his old mentor, David Cutcliffe.

In the fall of 2011, the NFL season kicked off for the first time in thirteen years without Peyton Manning. His arm had atrophied to the point where playing simply wasn’t possible. Around the same time, Manning began working out under the tutelage of Coach Cut for the first time in nearly a decade and a half.

Cutcliffe had invited Manning to come to Duke University, where he’s now head coach. So, in absolute secrecy, Peyton Manning went to the Carolinas to work with the coach who’d taught him almost everything he knows about playing quarterback. What Cutcliffe saw stunned him.

Speaking to 60 Minutes Sports, Manning described the conversation with his old ball coach after that first workout as one of the most frightening moments of his life, “He told me, ‘Peyton, you need to stop throwing. Your mechanics are so off, you’re going to hurt yourself even worse’.” David Cutcliffe would have to teach Peyton Manning how to throw again.

For weeks at time in late 2011, Manning returned to Duke University. He’d bring with him old teammates like Brandon Stokley, or Jeff Saturday to help him rebuild every aspect of his game. Over time, under Cutcliffe’s ever watchful eye, Manning improved. He wasn’t the player he’d been, but he was finding ways to use his brain, and depth of experience to complete passes.

The day came for a final test. Manning and Cutcliffe recruited a number of former Colts teammates to recreate one of Manning’s greatest performances, the 2009 AFC Championship Game. Sporting full Colts regalia, Manning reenacted all thirty nine passing attempts from that game.

It would be the final test before the Colts decided whether to keep, or release him. He played exceptionally. Cutcliffe had performed a near miracle. He’d brought Peyton Manning back from the quarterback abyss. Manning felt ready to return to Indianapolis. A week later, he was cut.

For the next few weeks, Peyton Manning visited with team after team, trying to find a staff he could be comfortable with in the same kind of way he’d become comfortable with Cutcliffe. In San Francisco, he was poked and prodded like a science experiment, as doctors tried to give a prognosis to the ever impatient Jim Harbaugh.

San Francisco was eliminated from contention. In Tennessee, the state where Manning played his college football, owner Bud Adams was ready to back up a truckload of money that could fill Graceland four or five times over. However, the roster wasn’t right. Peyton wanted to win. He talked with Miami and Arizona. Both of them had flaws.

He took a visit to Colorado for the first time since he’d thrown that five yard duck in the basement at Coors Field. It felt right. General Manager John Elway, someone Manning already had immense respect for, put on a soft pitch. He explained his vision for a Manning era in Denver, but left the ball in Peyton’s court. The rest is history.

Three years later, after three consecutive heart wrenching postseason losses, much has changed about the relationship between Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Elway forced Manning to take the first pay cut of his career, and there’s a palpable sense of contempt creeping its way through the halls at Dove Valley. Yet, nothing has changed between Peyton Manning and the man who saved his career.

Each offseason since Manning’s been in Denver, he’s recruited Broncos receivers to join him at Duke this time of year for what is essentially an annual reunion with Coach Cut. And, after five NFL MVP awards, a super bowl championship, and more passing records than could possibly be listed here, David Cutcliffe still treats Peyton Manning like that kid he recruited in the mid 90’s at Tennessee.

At Duke each year, Cutcliffe runs him through the same drills he puts his freshman passers through. Manning refocuses on his footwork, throwing motion, and other fundamentals.

In the 60 Minutes Sports piece filmed at last year’s workout, Cutcliffe scolds Manning in a way perhaps no other coach working today would ever have the guts to. After a poor throw on a drag route, he tells Peyton, “You know, that one was a drag? You’re way behind on everything you did.” The Duke workouts have become notorious. Cutcliffe is the reason why they exist in the first place.

In the last four years, David Cutcliffe has found a way to crack through the proverbial armor that shields Peyton Manning from the rest of the world. They’ve a developed a bond unlike almost any other that’s been documented in Manning’s life. As talk of Manning’s eventual retirement intensifies, many believe this year’s Duke workout will be the last of its kind.

David Cutcliffe is once again being asked to bring Peyton Manning back from the edge of oblivion. Most believe it’s impossible. Most believe Manning will never be the player he once was. Yet, it wasn’t long ago those same critics said similar things. Together, Cutcliffe and Manning proved them wrong, and, as the saying goes, fool me once…

Jake Marsing is an Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @JakeDMarsing. And be sure to like MileHighHuddle on Facebook.

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Broncos tickets and merchandise.

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Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker
Inside linebacker | Safety | Cornerback

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Mile High Huddle Top Stories

\t\r\n

Quarterback Peyton Manning is an intensely private man. It has been exactly 1,108 days since he signed his contract with the Denver Broncos. Yet, fans in Denver know as little about the five-time MVP’s personality today, as they did three years ago. Manning is almost never seen in public, with the expectation of the odd charity event, or Rockies game. \r\n\t

While he maintains a friendly, almost genial exterior, Manning is in reality a calculating, ferocious competitor. Rarely do fans know something about Peyton Manning that Peyton Manning doesn’t want them to know. He’s obsessed with achieving football perfection. It drives him, it consumes him, and from time to time, it destroys him. \r\n\t

Some of the men Manning has played with in the last eighteen years have been turned off by his personality. Running back C.J. Anderson said in a radio interview during the Broncos pre-playoff bye week that he was, “going to turn off my phone for the week. 18’s great, but he can grind on you.” \r\n

Manning can be a demanding, nagging, shrew of a quarterback. Just ask the Broncos scoreboard operator. Yet, it’s that same methodical drive that’s made him into one of the greatest professional athletes of all time. \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

\r\n [MEDIA:1512009]Which Player Is The Broncos Best 2015 Free Agent Signing? SOUND OFF IN THE FORUMS!\r\n

\r\n\r\n\r\n\t

Few have ever been able to truly connect with Peyton Manning. He keeps a close circle of family and friends. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star covered Manning for a decade and a half. Kravitz once described the process of trying to bond with Peyton as a, “laborious, and often exhausting ordeal for new players.” \r\n

Manning puts notes in the lockers of receivers who drop passes, or lineman who miss blocks. And, as anyone who’s gone out to a Broncos practice in the last three years will tell you, he curses like a sailor. \r\n\t

His relationship with coaches since he’s been in the NFL has almost never been that of a traditional player and coach. Starting in his third season in Indianapolis, when Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore devised the now trademark audible-heavy, pass-first offense, the relationship between Peyton and his coaches has been more like that of two equal partners than that of a teacher and pupil. There’s only one man who has ever really been able to coach Peyton Manning. His name is David Cutcliffe. \r\n\t

For the four years Manning spent at the University of Tennessee, Cutcliffe was his guiding light. Manning was a well-off kid from Louisiana in a new city. He possessed a mountain of talent, but had plenty of holes in his game. Cutcliffe was his offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. If Peyton Manning has ever thrown a pass that wowed you, or left you in silent awe, you can thank the man he calls “Coach Cut.” \r\n\t

In an interview with “60 Minutes Sports” filmed this time last year, Manning expressed the utmost admiration for Cutcliffe. “Really, he’s always been my coach,” Manning said. “Every golfer goes back to that swing coach who taught him to play. For me, that’s been Coach Cut.” Their relationship is one of comfort, and familiarity. So, when Manning faced the greatest crisis of his career, he naturally turned to Cutcliffe. \r\n\t

In May 2011, Peyton Manning woke up in a Chicago hospital room. He’d gone for the third of what would eventually be four procedures to correct a herniated disk in his neck that had caused him pain for a decade. When Manning tried to hoist himself up in the bed, his right arm collapsed under his weight. \r\n

The now surgically repaired disk had been pinching Manning’s supraclavicular nerve. When the tension was released, it caused severe weakness in his throwing arm. Not an ideal situation for a quarterback. \r\n\t

For weeks, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game did not have the strength in his right hand to grip a football. It would be two months, and one final surgery later before Manning tried to throw. \r\n\t

His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. In the summer of 2011, the NFL and its player’s association were locked in a heated arbitration fight. Manning didn’t have access to the trainers in Indianapolis he’d worked with for nearly fourteen years. So, he placed a call to another one of the few individuals who’ve been able to connect with him, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. \r\n\t

That first post-surgery pass came in lower downtown Denver, a city Manning was largely unfamiliar with. Somewhere in the bowels of Coors Field following a Rockies game, Todd Helton stepped ten yards back, Peyton lifted the ball to his ear, and fired. “It nose-dived after about five yards,” Manning told the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins. The greatest pure passer in NFL history could not throw the football. \r\n\t

He’d spend the next month desperately trying to regain his All-Pro form on his own. He threw the ball in his backyard with wife Ashely, and Brother Eli. He went to physical therapy. None of it seemed to help. Yet, he held out hope for a miracle. \r\n

In a sit down with David Letterman last year, Manning joked about his frustration with the pace of his recovery, “They’d tell you that the nerve could come back to 100% at any time,” Manning said, “So, every day, I’d wake up excited, thinking that today was going to be the day…I’d be awful disappointed around noon.” It got to the point where Manning considered retirement. That is, until he called his old mentor, David Cutcliffe. \r\n\t

In the fall of 2011, the NFL season kicked off for the first time in thirteen years without Peyton Manning. His arm had atrophied to the point where playing simply wasn’t possible. Around the same time, Manning began working out under the tutelage of Coach Cut for the first time in nearly a decade and a half. \r\n\t

Cutcliffe had invited Manning to come to Duke University, where he’s now head coach. So, in absolute secrecy, Peyton Manning went to the Carolinas to work with the coach who’d taught him almost everything he knows about playing quarterback. What Cutcliffe saw stunned him. \r\n

Speaking to 60 Minutes Sports, Manning described the conversation with his old ball coach after that first workout as one of the most frightening moments of his life, “He told me, ‘Peyton, you need to stop throwing. Your mechanics are so off, you’re going to hurt yourself even worse’.” David Cutcliffe would have to teach Peyton Manning how to throw again.\r\n\t

For weeks at time in late 2011, Manning returned to Duke University. He’d bring with him old teammates like Brandon Stokley, or Jeff Saturday to help him rebuild every aspect of his game. Over time, under Cutcliffe’s ever watchful eye, Manning improved. He wasn’t the player he’d been, but he was finding ways to use his brain, and depth of experience to complete passes.\r\n\t

The day came for a final test. Manning and Cutcliffe recruited a number of former Colts teammates to recreate one of Manning’s greatest performances, the 2009 AFC Championship Game. Sporting full Colts regalia, Manning reenacted all thirty nine passing attempts from that game. \r\n

It would be the final test before the Colts decided whether to keep, or release him. He played exceptionally. Cutcliffe had performed a near miracle. He’d brought Peyton Manning back from the quarterback abyss. Manning felt ready to return to Indianapolis. A week later, he was cut. \r\n\t

For the next few weeks, Peyton Manning visited with team after team, trying to find a staff he could be comfortable with in the same kind of way he’d become comfortable with Cutcliffe. In San Francisco, he was poked and prodded like a science experiment, as doctors tried to give a prognosis to the ever impatient Jim Harbaugh. \r\n

San Francisco was eliminated from contention. In Tennessee, the state where Manning played his college football, owner Bud Adams was ready to back up a truckload of money that could fill Graceland four or five times over. However, the roster wasn’t right. Peyton wanted to win. He talked with Miami and Arizona. Both of them had flaws. \r\n\t

He took a visit to Colorado for the first time since he’d thrown that five yard duck in the basement at Coors Field. It felt right. General Manager John Elway, someone Manning already had immense respect for, put on a soft pitch. He explained his vision for a Manning era in Denver, but left the ball in Peyton’s court. The rest is history. \r\n\t

Three years later, after three consecutive heart wrenching postseason losses, much has changed about the relationship between Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Elway forced Manning to take the first pay cut of his career, and there’s a palpable sense of contempt creeping its way through the halls at Dove Valley. Yet, nothing has changed between Peyton Manning and the man who saved his career. \r\n\t

Each offseason since Manning’s been in Denver, he’s recruited Broncos receivers to join him at Duke this time of year for what is essentially an annual reunion with Coach Cut. And, after five NFL MVP awards, a super bowl championship, and more passing records than could possibly be listed here, David Cutcliffe still treats Peyton Manning like that kid he recruited in the mid 90’s at Tennessee. \r\n

At Duke each year, Cutcliffe runs him through the same drills he puts his freshman passers through. Manning refocuses on his footwork, throwing motion, and other fundamentals. \r\n\t

In the 60 Minutes Sports piece filmed at last year’s workout, Cutcliffe scolds Manning in a way perhaps no other coach working today would ever have the guts to. After a poor throw on a drag route, he tells Peyton, “You know, that one was a drag? You’re way behind on everything you did.” The Duke workouts have become notorious. Cutcliffe is the reason why they exist in the first place. \r\n\t

In the last four years, David Cutcliffe has found a way to crack through the proverbial armor that shields Peyton Manning from the rest of the world. They’ve a developed a bond unlike almost any other that’s been documented in Manning’s life. As talk of Manning’s eventual retirement intensifies, many believe this year’s Duke workout will be the last of its kind. \r\n\t

David Cutcliffe is once again being asked to bring Peyton Manning back from the edge of oblivion. Most believe it’s impossible. Most believe Manning will never be the player he once was. Yet, it wasn’t long ago those same critics said similar things. Together, Cutcliffe and Manning proved them wrong, and, as the saying goes, fool me once…\r\n

\r\n\r\n

\r\n

Jake Marsing is an Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @JakeDMarsing. And be sure to like MileHighHuddle on Facebook.\r\n\r\n

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Broncos tickets and merchandise.\r\n

\r\n

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Join the Conversation On The MHH Forums and Discuss This Article With Broncos Fans

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All 22: Breaking Down Broncos FS Darian Stewart
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CLICK HERE for NFL free agency stories
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\r\n
OFFENSE: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | \r\n
Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center\r\n
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker\r\n
Inside linebacker | Safety | Cornerback\r\n

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SCOUT.COM FREE AGENT RANKINGS

\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tProspects by: OVERALL \r\n\t\t\t\t\tRANK | Position | 2014 Team | Signed Team\r\n | Name
\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\r\nPosition:\r\n\t\t\t\t\tQB\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tRB\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tFB\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tWR\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tTE\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tOT\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tOG\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tC\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tDT\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tDE\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tOLB\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tMLB\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tS\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tCB\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tK\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tP\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\tLS

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","mobileBody":"

ICYMI: #Manning’s annual @DukeU workouts with teammates underway. [http://t.co/oNcg3Pk3RK] pic.twitter.com/TlaqQZW4So

— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) April 3, 2015

Quarterback Peyton Manning is an intensely private man. It has been exactly 1,108 days since he signed his contract with the Denver Broncos. Yet, fans in Denver know as little about the five-time MVP’s personality today, as they did three years ago. Manning is almost never seen in public, with the expectation of the odd charity event, or Rockies game.

While he maintains a friendly, almost genial exterior, Manning is in reality a calculating, ferocious competitor. Rarely do fans know something about Peyton Manning that Peyton Manning doesn’t want them to know. He’s obsessed with achieving football perfection. It drives him, it consumes him, and from time to time, it destroys him.

Some of the men Manning has played with in the last eighteen years have been turned off by his personality. Running back C.J. Anderson said in a radio interview during the Broncos pre-playoff bye week that he was, “going to turn off my phone for the week. 18’s great, but he can grind on you.”

Manning can be a demanding, nagging, shrew of a quarterback. Just ask the Broncos scoreboard operator. Yet, it’s that same methodical drive that’s made him into one of the greatest professional athletes of all time.

[MEDIA:1512009]Which Player Is The Broncos Best 2015 Free Agent Signing? SOUND OFF IN THE FORUMS!

Few have ever been able to truly connect with Peyton Manning. He keeps a close circle of family and friends. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star covered Manning for a decade and a half. Kravitz once described the process of trying to bond with Peyton as a, “laborious, and often exhausting ordeal for new players.”

Manning puts notes in the lockers of receivers who drop passes, or lineman who miss blocks. And, as anyone who’s gone out to a Broncos practice in the last three years will tell you, he curses like a sailor.

His relationship with coaches since he’s been in the NFL has almost never been that of a traditional player and coach. Starting in his third season in Indianapolis, when Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore devised the now trademark audible-heavy, pass-first offense, the relationship between Peyton and his coaches has been more like that of two equal partners than that of a teacher and pupil. There’s only one man who has ever really been able to coach Peyton Manning. His name is David Cutcliffe.

For the four years Manning spent at the University of Tennessee, Cutcliffe was his guiding light. Manning was a well-off kid from Louisiana in a new city. He possessed a mountain of talent, but had plenty of holes in his game. Cutcliffe was his offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. If Peyton Manning has ever thrown a pass that wowed you, or left you in silent awe, you can thank the man he calls “Coach Cut.”

In an interview with “60 Minutes Sports” filmed this time last year, Manning expressed the utmost admiration for Cutcliffe. “Really, he’s always been my coach,” Manning said. “Every golfer goes back to that swing coach who taught him to play. For me, that’s been Coach Cut.” Their relationship is one of comfort, and familiarity. So, when Manning faced the greatest crisis of his career, he naturally turned to Cutcliffe.

In May 2011, Peyton Manning woke up in a Chicago hospital room. He’d gone for the third of what would eventually be four procedures to correct a herniated disk in his neck that had caused him pain for a decade. When Manning tried to hoist himself up in the bed, his right arm collapsed under his weight.

The now surgically repaired disk had been pinching Manning’s supraclavicular nerve. When the tension was released, it caused severe weakness in his throwing arm. Not an ideal situation for a quarterback.

For weeks, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game did not have the strength in his right hand to grip a football. It would be two months, and one final surgery later before Manning tried to throw.

His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. In the summer of 2011, the NFL and its player’s association were locked in a heated arbitration fight. Manning didn’t have access to the trainers in Indianapolis he’d worked with for nearly fourteen years. So, he placed a call to another one of the few individuals who’ve been able to connect with him, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

That first post-surgery pass came in lower downtown Denver, a city Manning was largely unfamiliar with. Somewhere in the bowels of Coors Field following a Rockies game, Todd Helton stepped ten yards back, Peyton lifted the ball to his ear, and fired. “It nose-dived after about five yards,” Manning told the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins. The greatest pure passer in NFL history could not throw the football.

He’d spend the next month desperately trying to regain his All-Pro form on his own. He threw the ball in his backyard with wife Ashely, and Brother Eli. He went to physical therapy. None of it seemed to help. Yet, he held out hope for a miracle.

In a sit down with David Letterman last year, Manning joked about his frustration with the pace of his recovery, “They’d tell you that the nerve could come back to 100% at any time,” Manning said, “So, every day, I’d wake up excited, thinking that today was going to be the day…I’d be awful disappointed around noon.” It got to the point where Manning considered retirement. That is, until he called his old mentor, David Cutcliffe.

In the fall of 2011, the NFL season kicked off for the first time in thirteen years without Peyton Manning. His arm had atrophied to the point where playing simply wasn’t possible. Around the same time, Manning began working out under the tutelage of Coach Cut for the first time in nearly a decade and a half.

Cutcliffe had invited Manning to come to Duke University, where he’s now head coach. So, in absolute secrecy, Peyton Manning went to the Carolinas to work with the coach who’d taught him almost everything he knows about playing quarterback. What Cutcliffe saw stunned him.

Speaking to 60 Minutes Sports, Manning described the conversation with his old ball coach after that first workout as one of the most frightening moments of his life, “He told me, ‘Peyton, you need to stop throwing. Your mechanics are so off, you’re going to hurt yourself even worse’.” David Cutcliffe would have to teach Peyton Manning how to throw again.

For weeks at time in late 2011, Manning returned to Duke University. He’d bring with him old teammates like Brandon Stokley, or Jeff Saturday to help him rebuild every aspect of his game. Over time, under Cutcliffe’s ever watchful eye, Manning improved. He wasn’t the player he’d been, but he was finding ways to use his brain, and depth of experience to complete passes.

The day came for a final test. Manning and Cutcliffe recruited a number of former Colts teammates to recreate one of Manning’s greatest performances, the 2009 AFC Championship Game. Sporting full Colts regalia, Manning reenacted all thirty nine passing attempts from that game.

It would be the final test before the Colts decided whether to keep, or release him. He played exceptionally. Cutcliffe had performed a near miracle. He’d brought Peyton Manning back from the quarterback abyss. Manning felt ready to return to Indianapolis. A week later, he was cut.

For the next few weeks, Peyton Manning visited with team after team, trying to find a staff he could be comfortable with in the same kind of way he’d become comfortable with Cutcliffe. In San Francisco, he was poked and prodded like a science experiment, as doctors tried to give a prognosis to the ever impatient Jim Harbaugh.

San Francisco was eliminated from contention. In Tennessee, the state where Manning played his college football, owner Bud Adams was ready to back up a truckload of money that could fill Graceland four or five times over. However, the roster wasn’t right. Peyton wanted to win. He talked with Miami and Arizona. Both of them had flaws.

He took a visit to Colorado for the first time since he’d thrown that five yard duck in the basement at Coors Field. It felt right. General Manager John Elway, someone Manning already had immense respect for, put on a soft pitch. He explained his vision for a Manning era in Denver, but left the ball in Peyton’s court. The rest is history.

Three years later, after three consecutive heart wrenching postseason losses, much has changed about the relationship between Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Elway forced Manning to take the first pay cut of his career, and there’s a palpable sense of contempt creeping its way through the halls at Dove Valley. Yet, nothing has changed between Peyton Manning and the man who saved his career.

Each offseason since Manning’s been in Denver, he’s recruited Broncos receivers to join him at Duke this time of year for what is essentially an annual reunion with Coach Cut. And, after five NFL MVP awards, a super bowl championship, and more passing records than could possibly be listed here, David Cutcliffe still treats Peyton Manning like that kid he recruited in the mid 90’s at Tennessee.

At Duke each year, Cutcliffe runs him through the same drills he puts his freshman passers through. Manning refocuses on his footwork, throwing motion, and other fundamentals.

In the 60 Minutes Sports piece filmed at last year’s workout, Cutcliffe scolds Manning in a way perhaps no other coach working today would ever have the guts to. After a poor throw on a drag route, he tells Peyton, “You know, that one was a drag? You’re way behind on everything you did.” The Duke workouts have become notorious. Cutcliffe is the reason why they exist in the first place.

In the last four years, David Cutcliffe has found a way to crack through the proverbial armor that shields Peyton Manning from the rest of the world. They’ve a developed a bond unlike almost any other that’s been documented in Manning’s life. As talk of Manning’s eventual retirement intensifies, many believe this year’s Duke workout will be the last of its kind.

David Cutcliffe is once again being asked to bring Peyton Manning back from the edge of oblivion. Most believe it’s impossible. Most believe Manning will never be the player he once was. Yet, it wasn’t long ago those same critics said similar things. Together, Cutcliffe and Manning proved them wrong, and, as the saying goes, fool me once…

[YOUTUBE:VRWGidu_GHI]

Jake Marsing is an Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @JakeDMarsing. And be sure to like MileHighHuddle on Facebook.

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