When he has time, Duke coach David Cutcliffe will use the Blue Devils’ video system to pull up film of the Denver Broncos. And just like he did in the mid-1990s as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Cutcliffe will watch Peyton Manning throw.
The results this year haven’t always been pretty for Manning as he has battled injuries, most notably a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He missed six games but returned and led Denver through two playoff wins, and on Sunday, he’ll lead the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers.
“I thought his last ball game, he was right back to where he needed to be,” Cutcliffe said of Denver’s 20-18 win against the New England Patriots on Jan. 24.
“I don’t think a month in a half ago anyone would have put them in the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning being the quarterback. Very happy for him.”
While Manning, 39, was struggling through statistically the worst of his 18 seasons in the NFL, he and Cutcliffe kept in touch, just like they always do. It was Cutcliffe that Manning trusted to rebuild his throwing motion after neck surgeries in 2011, and Cutcliffe was one of the people Manning chose to lean on for emotional support this year.
I don’t think a month in a half ago anyone would have put them in the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning being the quarterback. Very happy for him.
“I really was a good listener,” Cutcliffe said. “Oftentimes more wounds will open emotionally than they will physically. It’s a difficult time. I think he would tell you that. I was amazed. I just listened.”
While most talking heads were focused on Manning’s lack of arm strength, Cutcliffe’s film viewing led him to another conclusion. When they rebuilt Manning’s throwing motion after neck surgery, they started from the ground up: his feet, his legs, his core and his arms. This year, it was the opposite.
“This time, it was from the ground up, and it caused problems up top, which then takes velocity off the ball,” Cutcliffe said. “If you throw a football, you understand weight transfer and understand that you’re throwing with your core, and all that core is driving things into the ground,” Cutcliffe said. “If your foot goes bad, then you start transitioning.”
Game film wasn’t the only film Cutcliffe talked about last week when talking all things Manning. The two often talk about how Manning can better relate to younger NFL players as he keeps getting older – a topic that Cutcliffe is familiar with as a college coach. Manning is willing to adjust – to a point. In some ways, younger teammates have to adjust to him.
“He assigns some of them old movies they have to watch before they play with him,” Cutcliffe said. “If they don’t get ‘Caddyshack,’ then you don’t have any business in the room with him.”
I don’t think he has arrived at any answer in that regard. I believe that in my heart. You don’t go there, you don’t do that to yourself before you’re getting ready to play a game. He’s capable of keeping his mind open, and he’s definitely open. What I hope is that he finds peace with whatever decision it ends up being.
Cutcliffe on Peyton Manning’s plans after the Super Bowl
With that as a baseline, it’s not a huge surprise that Cutcliffe doesn’t see coaching in Manning’s future.
“I really don’t, but he could answer it differently and not surprise me,” he said. “I just don’t know that he would have the patience and understanding, ‘How do you not do this, how do you not understand this.’ We all, at some point, have a hard time, but I can’t imagine the guy he would coach. Your skin better be thick.”
Cutcliffe will wait along with everyone else to see if this is the final game of Manning’s NFL career. He doesn’t think Manning knows at this point, either.
“I don’t think he has arrived at any answer in that regard. I believe that in my heart,” he said. “You don’t go there, you don’t do that to yourself before you’re getting ready to play a game. He’s capable of keeping his mind open, and he’s definitely open. What I hope is that he finds peace with whatever decision it ends up being.”