Peyton Manning's Free Agency Foray Was Filled With Cloak-and-Dagger Shenanigans

John Elway, Pat Bowlen, Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning way back when | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Peyton Manning's one adventure into free agency was a doozy. The Athletic published an oral history of the saga today, and it's filled with great nuggets of information, including that Jim Harbaugh is a big fan of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Real salt of the earth guy between that and the khakis.

What really stood out in the piece was the NFL's cloak-and-dagger attitude and the insanity that is the media following superstars around. Manning landed in Miami right after his exit press conference with the Indianapolis Colts and asked a poor airport bus driver to help him avoid the hordes of reporters and the helicopter that followed him around. When Manning visited Denver, then-head coach John Fox made all of his assistants stick around the building until 8 p.m, at which point they all left in different cars at the same time to throw off the media trail:

Peyton: We finished the visit and John (Elway) says, "Let's go get a beer somewhere." I said, "That sounds good. Now we can just be in a relaxing environment." And he said, "There are cameras out there waiting again." So we got all the assistant coaches, he made them wait until like 8 o'clock when it's time to leave. And about 10 cars left the Broncos' facility, and it was like the president where you have these decoy cars. You got (Broncos director of special services) Fred Fleming driving this way and Mike McCoy driving this way. And so me and John and (director of player personnel) Matt Russell were in one car, and somehow, we got away.

Manning spent that night in Denver with former teammate Brandon Stokely, and was so nervous about the media finding out he was having a throwing session that he hid the football underneath his shirt whenever someone would bike by. Stokley told his son he couldn't wear a Manning jersey in case it tipped anyone off about who was there.

Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, let Manning use his private plane to fly around because it was impossible to track. He had the tail number blocked, which doesn't sound entirely legal, but he is also very rich.

Manning worked out at Duke for the 49ers' brass, and to avoid any suspicion that he was being watched in a throwing session, Harbaugh and Trent Balke watched from their cars:

Cooper: There was this CIA feel to a football acquisition. … Harbaugh and his coordinator went to his workout and watched from his car. I mean, what can you tell from a car?

Peyton: It looked like I was out there just throwing on my own. I remember finally, they said they couldn’t see what they wanted to see. They were like 40 yards away in the car trying to watch this workout. And so they got out and I remember they both had hoodies on. They had (Bill) Belichick-style hoodie sweatshirts watching the workout.

Harbaugh: I think I was just wearing my normal stuff, what I always wore.

I mean, it's just all so insane. Manning used the word "kidnapped" to describe how the Titans managed to get him a receiver to throw to during his workout while keeping it under wraps:

Peyton: It was in the rain, and they brought some of their executives and receiver Marc Mariani, a return man, as well. They picked Mariani up at the airport and they basically gave him some cleats and said, "We're not telling you where we’re going. Turn your cell phone off." He couldn't call anybody. He couldn't tell anybody what he was doing. It's almost like they kidnapped him.

It's just football, man.

Fun stuff, though. Can't wait to see how the next marquee free agent dodges helicopters and hounding local reporters.