- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2012

DENVER — The spirits of Colorado football fans soared a mile high when word broke Monday morning that future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning had decided to play for the Denver Broncos. They just had one request: Keep Tim Tebow, too.

Even as Peyton-monium was erupting in Denver on Monday, Broncos diehards were finding it hard to loosen their grip on Tebowmania, despite reports that the team would trade fan-favorite Tebow in the aftermath of Manning’s decision.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper summed up the feelings of Bronco Nation when he suggested Monday that Tebow spend a season or two learning at the feet of the former Indianapolis Colts signal-caller, whose contract is expected to be worth $95 million over five years.

“My imagination soars at the thought that Tim Tebow would be willing — and obviously he doesn’t have to do this, he’s proven he can be a starter — but if he were to stay a year or two under the tutelage of Peyton Manning, and see where that goes,” said Hickenlooper.

“That would be ideal. For Peyton Manning to take the raw talent and character of Tim Tebow and put them together, is almost too good to be believed,” said the Democratic governor. “You can’t be in this job without being pretty optimistic, so I’m hopeful.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the Suleiman brothers, who became local celebrities for running pro-Tebow messages last season on their electronic sign at Multiline International Imports at 58th Avenue and Grant Street.

The brothers had a new message Monday — “Broncos Fans Welcome New Manning On Board” — but at the same time, they said they supported the team keeping Tebow as a backup to learn from the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player.

“It would be better if we could keep him,” said Ali Suleiman. “Tebow could learn from Manning, because how long is he going to be able to play?”

The Suleimans recently conducted an unscientific online survey — Manning or Tebow? — which found 59 percent of respondents favored Tebow. The poll drew more than 20,000 votes.

“It’s great to have a guy like Manning be part of the team,” said Tariq Suleiman. “[But] Tebow was special. He brought something special to Denver.”

Many Broncos fans said they were concerned that Manning’s age — he turns 36 Saturday — means he only has a few years in Denver, after which the team will need another quarterback.

And who better than Tebow, who wowed the fan base in 2011 by leading the team to its first playoff win since 2005 despite, as Denver-based ESPN columnist Rick Reilly put it, “tossing more dirtballs than a Hooters bouncer”?

“I think Peyton would be a great mentor for Tebow, but I think we need to keep Tebow because Manning’s only got so many years left,” said Doug Hale of Littleton.

Other football-watchers said they would be relieved to see the Broncos trade Tebow so that the team could focus on winning a Super Bowl instead of dealing with never-ending publicity surrounding the quarterback.

“I think it’s a good move because the team can get draft picks and we can say goodbye to the circus,” said Ken Dobson of Littleton. “Because with Tebow, it wasn’t about football. It was about one guy. Now we can get back to football.”

In his 13 games as the Broncos’ starting quarterback last season, Tebow became the most-recognized athlete in the nation and maybe the world, thanks to a combination of his throwback run-first playing style, fourth-quarter heroics, sunny personality and unabashed Christian faith.

He inspired the phenomenon known as Tebowing, in which people strike a kneeling prayer pose in public settings, something the quarterback was known to do during football games.

The phone and text lines were jammed on Denver’s sports-talk radio stations as callers cheered the Manning deal and debated Tebow’s future. Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan switched its website logo to “104.3 The Man … ning” shortly after the news broke.

“Holy cow, Peyton Manning is going to be a Bronco,” said The Fan’s Nate Lundy. “For the next 90 minutes, we could just play ‘Hallelujah’ and I’d be fine with that.”

At 102.3 FM ESPN, the website ran the message, “Peyton … Welcome to Denver” even as callers and hosts acknowledged Tebow’s role in rescuing the 2011 season and putting the franchise back on the NFL map.

“He brought an excitement to the team,” said ESPN Denver radio host Jojo Turnbeaugh. “For as good a day as this is in Denver, it’s not a very great day for Tim Tebow.”

It was a great day for John Elway, the former Broncos quarterback who serves as the team’s vice president for football operations. Convincing the legendary Manning to come to Denver was seen as a coup for Elway, who reportedly never has been entirely comfortable with Tebow’s unorthodox style.

“This is the smoothest way he could possibly move on from what he thought was a mistake by [former coach] Josh McDaniels,” said The Fan’s Darren McKee.

The Broncos are betting that the arrival of a quarterback with Manning’s pedigree will take the sting out of losing Tebowmania. They may be right, especially if Manning can lead them to a Super Bowl.

“Any time you can get a quarterback the caliber of Peyton Manning, why not?” said Bill Sronce of Castle Rock. “I’m a Tebow fan. He’s a great leader, I love his intangibles. But this is Peyton Manning. Come on.”

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