It was sort of an accident, really. The Broncos’ media relations staff came up with the statistic about Peyton Manning and John Fox that knocks your socks off as part of routine research before Manning visited Dove Valley a little less than two weeks ago.
It was part of a general briefing email the staff sent to Fox and John Elway two weeks ago today, the day the Colts released Manning. But this particular stat was also highlighted in a chance hallway meeting at Dove Valley between Fox and media relations director Patrick Smyth.
As soon as Fox heard it, he knew he had to make it part of his sales pitch to the four-time NFL most valuable player.
As Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported in a fine blow-by-blow account of the courtship, Fox had requested certain information specifically, including some facts about the weather in Denver that would debunk its false reputation back east as a snowbound winter wonderland. That request, along with an Excel spreadsheet, produced the fact that the average starting temperature in 519 Broncos home games over the years has been 60.1 degrees.
Indeed, while they were at it, the Broncos broke down the average starting temperature for games in Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego — the Broncos’ AFC West rivals — and found it came to 61 degrees. Averaging the temperatures in Kansas City and San Diego in December may seem silly, but the exercise allowed the Broncos to tell Manning that the average starting temperature at the venues of 11 of his 16 games each season is in the 60s.
But the stat that made Manning and the Broncos look like a match made in heaven was not specifically requested. Rather, it grew out of earlier research Smyth’s staff had done when Fox was first hired almost fifteen months ago — the veteran coach’s record when his teams achieve certain markers, such as plus one in turnovers, plus two in turnovers; when they score 22 points, when they score 24, when they score 26, and so on. It’s the sort of standard stuff that appears in a team’s game notes throughout the season.
The first time I heard the money stat was six days after it made that internal Dove Valley memo, when Fox came on the Dave Logan Show following the press conference introducing Manning as the Broncos’ new quarterback on March 20.
Fox has long had a reputation as a conservative, defensive-minded head coach, a guy who likes to run the ball and whose teams play a lot of low-scoring games. But when I discussed that reputation with him in the middle of last season, he said it was a matter of circumstance, not conviction. And when you look at his teams, it’s true that he’s never had a quarterback likely to gain admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame without a ticket.
“I’ve never had that guy,” he told me then. So, following the Manning press conference, I asked him how different the Broncos’ offense was likely to look now that he finally has a Canton-bound quarterback.
“You do the best you can with what you got,” he replied. “Unfortunately, that’s been a little bit more run-oriented for me in my ten-year head coaching career. Balance is the thing that’s tough to defend, being a defensive coach most of my career. Getting a guy like Peyton, a guy that’s got those experiences and getting you into runs or passes based on what the defense is doing, you definitely become more two-dimensional and you get that balance.”
That’s when he unloaded the stat:
“As I mentioned to Peyton in the process, he’s averaged 26 points a game over his fourteen-year career in Indy, and in my ten-year coaching career when we’ve had 26 points or more, we’re 39-3. So hopefully that will be more the ratio moving forward.”
Actually, the count is 38-3, but let’s not quibble. The bottom line is this: Over the course of his career, when Fox’s teams score 26 points or more, they win more than 90 percent of the time.
Of course, the stat also demonstrates just how rare that’s been for Fox. In ten seasons, he’s coached 160 regular-season games and ten playoff games, so his teams have scored 26 points or more less than 25 percent of the time. Last season, for example, the Broncos scored 26 points or more only three times — and went 3-0 in those games.
What turns it into a money stat for the marriage of Manning and the Broncos is that 26 is Manning’s career average. In 2010, the last season he played for the Colts, his team scored 26 or more ten times.
As King points out, the key factor in Manning’s decision to sign with the Broncos was his comfort level with the people, Elway and Fox in particular, the city and the organization. But that stat is an intriguing part of the promise of this marriage because what it says is this:
If Manning can be approximately the player he’s been throughout his career, and if Fox can be approximately the coach he’s been throughout his career, it could be an almost unbeatable combination.