One of the biggest questions that circulated around the National Football League during the 2011 season was whether or not four-time MVP Peyton Manning would recover from four neck surgeries enough to withstand the rigorous demands of quarterbacking in a 16-game season again.

The front office of the Indianapolis Colts where Manning spent all of his 14 years didn’t seem to think he would ever be his old self again and gave him his walking papers early this year, making him a free agent to sign with whatever team wanted a 36-year-old quarterback who was unable to play for the entire 2011 NFL season.

Perhaps that was the way the organization re-paid Manning for leaving them high and dry without a competent quarterback during 2011 when they lost their first dozen or so games last season. Of course, there also was a little matter of the team having to pay him a roster bonus of more than $20 million if he remained with the team.

Perhaps this week’s edition of USA Today Sports Weekly said it best in their article that Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, who now has the handle of Denver Broncos executive vice-president for football operations, had been real interested in signing Manning when word leaked out that the Colts were dumping him.

“Luring Manning to Denver after the quarterback was kicked to the curb following 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts—and giving him a five-year, $96 million contract with a league-high $19.2 million average salary—might not rank as the biggest risk that Elway will ever take in  the front office,” the article pointed out.

“This is a Super Bowl-or-bust mission, and if it doesn’t pan out, Elway and Manning sound as if they would be at the front of the line in declaring it a failure.

“Seeing Manning’s impact play out for the first time in a Bronco’s uniform, though, was an affirmation for Elway, who has seen it on the practice field and on film,” the article continued.

The 31-19 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the opening weekend looked like Manning picked up right where he left off after the 2010 season with Indianapolis. “That Sunday night Manning was surgically efficient, the smooth orchestrator,” the article explained.

The statistics reveal just a portion of Manning’s successful debut with the Broncos. He completed 73% of his passes (19-of-26) for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passing rating was a robust 129.2. His efficiency within the flow of the game was even better.

Pittsburgh dominated the time of possession in the early action, so the Broncos decided to go with a no-huddle offense in the second quarter.

“I think it made a difference,” Manning told USA Today after the game. “I can’t speak whether it fatigued them or not, but it did give our offense a little boost, where we got into a little rhythm.”

With his first touchdown pass wearing a uniform other than that of the Indianapolis Colts, Manning became the third quarterback in NFL history with 400 touchdown passes for his career. He trails Hall of Famer Dan Marino’s 420 and career leader Brett Favre’s 508.

With his 253 yards against Pittsburgh in the 2012 opener, Manning surpassed 55,000 yards, which ranks third all-time.

Despite a most successful debut in the Mile High City, Manning insisted before Monday night’s game at Atlanta against the Falcons that he is still learning the ropes and it may take all year to truly find his comfort zone.

Manning, who suffered three interceptions in the first quarter Monday night, fell short on his attempt to rally Denver from a 27 to 7 fourth quarter deficit. Atlanta hung on to win at home 27 to 21.

The Broncos are very happy with what they’ve seen of Manning so far, both on and off the field. “He challenges everyone in the building every day because of the standard he sets for himself,” Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.

“It’s great for the organization, the younger players and a lot of the veterans. They think they’ve worked extremely hard, but then they see the way he is. He makes everyone better—coaches, players, the organization and everyone around him,” McCoy concluded.

KWICKIES…Orange’s Earl Thomas and his cohorts on the Seattle Seahawks brought owner Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys back down to earth Sunday by outplaying them in every aspect of the game in the Seahawks’ 27-7 thrashing of the Pokes. The Cowboys were trailing 10-0 before the game was five minutes old and then it got worse for them. Before Jones pops off again about this being the Cowboys’ year, perhaps they’d better get back to the basics for Sunday’s first home game against mediocre Tampa Bay.

The Houston Texans are another story, although they live by the mantra of playing them one game at a time. But the game they played at Jacksonville Sunday and won convincingly 27-7 was the first time in franchise history that the Texans have won by 20 or more points in back-to-back games. And the 117 total yards are the fewest the Texans have ever allowed in a game. Fortunately, preparing a game plan for Peyton Manning is something Head Coach Gary Kubiak has done twice a season for the last few years, but not while he was wearing in a Denver Broncos uniform. But it’s never been easy, especially with the Texans being 0-9 at Indianapolis. Hopefully Manning’s changing teams will also change that ugly 0-9 statistic, too.

I played in the Southeast Texas Seniors monthly golf tournament last Tuesday at Idylwild Golf Course in Sour Lake and ran into former Mauriceville High School head basketball coach Jimmy Burke, who also plays with the SETX Seniors. He has retired as a principal at Hardin-Jefferson, but owns a small business with a partner, so he’s still working some. He looks good and is as feisty as ever.

Alabama remains the nation’s top team in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 College Football Poll while LSU, Oregon and Florida State each jumped up one place behind the Crimson Tide. Georgia moved two places to No. 5, idle Oklahoma slipped one notch to No. 6, South Carolina and West Virginia each jumped up one place while Stanford moved from No. 21 to No. 9 with its upset win over Southern Cal which plummeted from No. 2 to No. 13. Clemson rounds out the Top Ten after moving up one slot. The Texas Longhorns jumped up two spots to No. 12 while TCU dropped one place to No. 17.

Our Houston Astros fought like crazy to prevent loss No. 100 by taking three of four from the Philadelphia Phillies last weekend at Minute Maid Park. But the inevitable will probably occur at St. Louis in a series that began Tuesday against the Cardinals.

The NFL replaced a replacement game official a few hours before the New Orleans-Carolina game kicked off when information surfaced that side judge Brian Stropolo, who is from New Orleans,  posted several photos of himself in Saints gear tailgating at a preseason game on his Facebook page. Just another reason for the NFL to get off their duffs and strike some kind of an agreement to get the “real” refs back to work.

JUST BETWEEN US…Orange’s 71-year-old marathon runner Ken Ruane qualified for the 2013 Senior Olympics by winning both the 5K and 1500 meter runs Saturday at the Louisiana-Lafayette University track. Ken said that he just ran fast enough to win both races, which was the only way to qualify for the Senior Olympics which will be run during the summer in Cleveland, Ohio on a date that has not yet been decided. Ken already qualified in the 10K earlier this year in Baton Rouge. “I had some incentive to qualify for these three events because Cleveland is my home town,” Ken said.