Manning even-keeled over comeback from lost season

Associated Press Modified: September 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm •  Published: September 5, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Peyton Manning's big moment is almost here, not that you'd know it by looking at him or listening to him.

The maestro on the football field is also a master of masking his emotions. So, if the four-time MVP who's coming off four neck surgeries is eager or edgy or excited about his return from last year's forced sabbatical, he's certainly not tipping his hand.

Manning makes his Denver debut this weekend when the Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Asked Wednesday if he thinks he'll have butterflies for his first game in 611 days, Manning said it's "hard to give a prediction" about how he'd feel at kickoff.

Check back with him, he suggested, after the game, and he'll have a better answer.

Receiver and close friend Brandon Stokley has an inkling that Manning will be awash in emotions.

Stokley said that when he came back from a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2007, it all hit him at once and he found himself reflecting on his long road back, how the game he loved had nearly been taken from him. He was left with a newfound appreciation for the game.

Stokley figures Manning will have a similar reaction Sunday night when he trots onto the field for his first real game since Jan. 8, 2011.

"When I was in that situation, being out for a whole year and you come back for that first game, there's no better feeling because you realize what you had," Stokley said. "And I'm sure he's going to be feeling that same way and excited and just playing the game that he loves again.

"I'm sure he's going to be really fired up."

Manning spoke in generalities after practice, saying only that opening day "is always an exciting time."

"I've always felt that it's as close to a playoff atmosphere as you can get in the regular season, and playing a tough team like Pittsburgh, playing on prime time, at night, is certainly going to add to the atmosphere," Manning said. "So, the fans will be excited."

Manning was reflective after his first preseason game last month, saying he took a moment to think about how far he'd come and all the people who helped him get his career back on track, from his trainers and doctors to his new coaches and teammates.

He showed during the preseason that his arm strength isn't an issue anymore and that he can take a licking and bounce right back up. Now, with his comeback beginning in earnest, he'll begin answering the bigger questions, such as those about his durability or his rustiness.

Manning allowed that even he has some unanswered questions about his comeback.

"Yeah, I have some things that I deal with myself," Manning said, "but I kind of keep that between me and the trainer."

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