Monthly Archives: August 2012

Paterno was neither hero nor victim

Smack dab in the midst of researching his new biography of Joe Paterno (Paterno, Simon & Schuster), Joe Posnanski ran into a problem familiar to all newspaper columnists: Breaking news dropped a bomb on his original plan.

When Posnanski was a sports columnist for the Cincinnati Post and Kansas City Star, this happened with some regularity. I know because I was a fellow newspaperman at the time, which is how we became friends.

You’re writing off an event that will conclude with very little time before your deadline — a night game, usually — so you need a column plan going in. You talk to people before the game about a theme you hope will hold up and you write your column as the game proceeds. Then something dramatic happens that clearly takes precedence and you have to scrap your original plan and write a new column in whatever time remains.

This is basically what happened to Posnanski while in residence at Penn State University last year researching his authorized biography of Paterno, who had won more games than any coach in college football history. It was to be Paterno’s final season, although he had not yet announced that publicly. The biography would follow as a towering tribute, just in time for Father’s Day, 2013.

Posnanski was pretty close to completing his research when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke late last year. The vile details of Paterno’s former defensive coordinator’s crimes of pedophilia, many of them committed in Penn State facilities or on Penn State football trips, sent shock waves through the culture of college athletics and into the greater culture at large.

Had Posnanski been writing a newspaper column, his course would have been obvious: Scrap the bio, saving the research for a calmer time, and launch a new narrative on the scandal told from his unique position on the inside of an insular, geographically isolated Penn State culture.

But Posnanski wasn’t writing a newspaper column. He was writing a book, which introduced some complicating factors. He had received permission and access for the biography from the Paterno family; would he be breaking a trust to change direction, even if he came back with the bio later? He had a contract for the bio with his publisher; would it have approved the switch? (One imagines that Simon & Schuster would have been OK with two books for the price of one, particularly if the first hit an unexpectedly hot-button topic, but one doesn’t know for sure.)

In any case, this is not what Posnanski did. He tried instead to stick to his original plan and weave the breaking news into the otherwise laudatory biography. The result is a disjointed, unsatisfying book in which the aspects of traditional biography seem oddly trivial and discussion of the scandal seems superficial and defensive.

As many reviewers have pointed out, this is not the book Posnanski wanted to write. It’s clear he’s very fond of Paterno. The old coach even has a pet name for him: “Giuseppe.” Frankly, this level of apparently mutual affection is not that good for the traditional biography either, which comes off as fawning for much of the book.

But the big problem is it prevents Posnanski from getting at the most important questions raised by the Sandusky scandal. Instead, he allows the Paternos to frame the issue by building a straw man and then demolishing it. Early on, Posnanski describes this scene last fall after the 85-year-old Paterno finishes reading the grand jury presentment that details Sandusky’s sexual crimes against children:

At the dining-room table, Paterno finished reading the report. He asked a few uncomfortable questions that nobody particularly wanted to answer. Then he asked, “So what are they saying about me out there?” He pointed outside, past the living room, through the window, toward the mass of reporters and their notepads and cameras. His children told him that they — not just the media, but many people all across America — were saying that Joe Paterno had covered up for a child predator. They were saying that Paterno knew exactly what Jerry Sandusky had done and what he was about, that Paterno had protected Sandusky instead of those children. They were saying that after more than a half-century of coaching football at Penn State University, Joe Paterno was willing to let children be harmed in unimaginable ways to protect his legacy.

“How could they think that? he asked, and no one had the heart to answer. “They really think that if I knew someone was hurting kids, I wouldn’t stop it?”

They looked at him.

“Don’t they know me? Don’t they know what my life has been about?”

This was undoubtedly a heart-rending moment for a Paterno fan like Posnanski, but to allow the family’s characterization of what “they” were saying to stand is to tilt the playing field so far in Paterno’s direction that he cannot help but look like a victim himself.

I know of no one who has read the relevant evidence — the grand jury presentment, the Louie Freeh investigative report commissioned by Penn State trustees after the fact — who believes Paterno knew and purposefully ignored the details of Sandusky’s multi-decade rampage of child rape. But that is not the question, is it?

The question begins at a place where none of the people in authority at Penn State are willing to begin: This happened. It happened right under their noses, in their facilities, on their trips. In broad strokes, there are only a few ways to explain this:

— Sandusky was a brilliant criminal and con man who fooled everyone; therefore no one except Sandusky is to blame. Unfortunately, the corollary to this explanation is that it could happen again anytime. There’s really nothing to be done.

— Paterno and other Penn State administrators knew all about it and covered it up to protect themselves, a heinous and extreme charge that the Paterno family and former Penn State president Graham Spanier have both found useful as a straw man.

— Paterno and the Penn State administration avoided confronting and swept under the rug incidents that should have raised red flags out of ignorance, myopia, self-interest or some combination of the three.

This last, of course, is the actual sum of the allegations in the damning investigative report issued by the former FBI director. One cannot read the Freeh Report without recalling the pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church and trying to learn something about the behavior of large, wealthy institutions in such situations. Ultimately, of course, the conduct of the church did rise to the level of overt and purposeful coverups in many cases. There is no evidence of that at Penn State. But there are important contradictions between evidence presented to the grand jury and the Freeh investigation on the one hand and Posnanski’s adoption of the Paterno family narrative on the other.

For example, Paterno tells Posnanski he has no recollection of a 1998 police investigation into a parent’s complaint that Sandusky had showered with her 11-year-old son. In a tape-recorded conversation between Sandusky and the mother, he admits he was wrong and says, “I wish I was dead.” Emails relating to this probe uncovered by the Freeh investigation include one from athletic director Tim Curley under the subject line, “Joe Paterno.”

“I have touched base with the coach,” Curley wrote. “Keep us posted. Thanks.”

So, unless Curley was lying in that email, Paterno was informed of the 1998 investigation he later said he knew nothing about. But let us accept the interpretation most favorable to Paterno — that he forgot about it; in fact, that he forgot so quickly that three years later, when graduate assistant Mike McQueary came to him to report seeing Sandusky and another pre-pubescent boy in a Penn State shower late one night, that Paterno, otherwise considered a brilliant man, made no connection to the earlier incident.

OK, so what about the 2001 McQueary report? McQueary has now testified before the grand jury and at Sandusky’s trial that he heard slapping sounds, skin on skin, that indicated sex. He described seeing the boy with his hands up against a wall and Sandusky behind him. It is not clear he was that specific with Paterno when he reported it; in fact, he says that “out of respect” for the aging coach he tried not to be too graphic. But it is clear that Paterno got the general idea. He told the grand jury that McQueary was visibly upset and told him something of a sexual nature was going on.

Paterno reported it to Curley, the athletic director who claimed to have touched base with him on the 1998 incident as well. Paterno tells Posnanski he didn’t know exactly what to do with McQueary’s report so he consulted Penn State’s guidelines and they told him to report it to his superior. Let’s leave aside the widely-debated question of whether anyone was actually Paterno’s superior at Penn State in those days.

Somehow, the report gets so watered down on its way up the administrative ladder that by the time it reaches Spanier, the university president, it has become “horseplay,” conjuring in his mind Sandusky and a youth snapping towels, as he told the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin.

There are at least two key questions that arise here. Posnanski was in a unique position to pursue them, and he did not.

1. How did this dilution of an awful, first-hand report take place?

2. How did Paterno manage to shrug off and never pursue again an allegation that he understood to involve some sort of sexual activity in a Penn State facility between a former coach with professor emeritus status and a pre-pubescent youth?

Posnanski’s answer, basically, is that Paterno was an old-school prude who knew nothing of such things and didn’t want to know, a man who has to ask his children what sodomy is.

Anything is possible, of course, but Posnanski has just spent nearly 300 pages telling us what a brilliant fellow Paterno is, and not just as a football coach. He is worldly. He is well-read. He is a graduate of an Ivy League school, Brown University. He is an inspiring commencement speaker. He has considered at various times going into politics. And now, for these purposes, he is a doddering old man who has never heard of homosexual rape, as if that were a technological innovation of the 21st century.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that it’s true. Seen in the light most favorable to Paterno, he is an increasingly demented old man whose ignorance and/or personal qualms helped keep the lid on a pedophilia rampage right under his nose. Is this really a lot better than the suggestion he couldn’t be bothered to follow up?

At the very end, just before he is fired, Paterno protests that he has no time to read the grand jury presentment because he has to get ready for the Nebraska game. Posnanski attributes this to the laser-like focus that has made him such a successful coach. Seen without Posnanski’s friendly filter, it is the single clearest, most scathing indictment of Paterno: He is, in the end, just as myopic as any other football coach. Even with the horrors of the scandal fully apparent, he would rather focus on football.

The problem with combining the biography and the scandal in a single book is that Paterno’s various successes on the football field — and there were many — simply don’t seem very important next to the depravity of what was going on in the Penn State showers and Penn State hotel rooms on the road. Sports biographies require a certain perceptual firewall; sports accomplishments can seem quite meaningful when the only context is lesser sports accomplishments. But in a book that concludes with the Sandusky scandal, how Paterno tinkered with traditional defensive alignments just doesn’t seem very important.

The overarching impression one comes away with, from both Posnanski’s book and Spanier’s lengthy interview with Toobin, is how deeply self-absorbed these folks were. Doesn’t everybody understand what good people they are? Doesn’t everybody know about all their good works? Spanier’s level of self-delusion is so intense he rewrites a conflict with Paterno over his job status in the early aughts that’s a matter of historical record.

They all emphasize that Sandusky was no longer a Penn State employee by 2001. None of them mentions or explains that he had emeritus status, an office and full access to school facilities. None acknowledges that his continuing proximity and access to Penn State football — access granted and maintained by Penn State officials — was the currency he used to lure his victims.

And not once does either of them look up and say:

Something awful happened here. It was on my watch. It is my responsibility as a leader to figure out how this could possibly have happened, what I did wrong, and to make sure it could never happen again.

This is what Freeh means by a shocking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims. It is not that Penn State officials knew he was molesting children and looked the other way. That would be a simple tale of good and evil, black and white. It is that amid a series of red flags, Penn State officials were too busy or too distracted or too self-interested to look any deeper. Even now, after the fact, they seem much more concerned with their own reputations than with the fate of the kids Sandusky molested using Penn State as his bait.

Posnanski does acknowledge this, although the acknowledgement is located in a section late in his book where he argues that the evidence Freeh uncovered is too ambiguous to tell us much.

It is beyond the scope of this book to look at the roles of anyone but Paterno in this harrowing affair, but it is certain that no one, Paterno included, was aware enough, courageous enough, or decent enough to stop a man who would be found guilty of forty-five counts of child molestation. Jerry Sandusky committed heinous crimes against children, and — as Paterno himself said — many people in and around State College would have deep regrets. Nobody — not the president of the school, not the athletic director, not the legendary coach — reported the [2001] incident to the police, and this would haunt a community, shatter the reputation of a great American university, and darken the legacy of the coach who made it his life’s goal to strive for success with honor.

Paterno’s tale, it turns out, is not so unusual after all. A young man full of idealism and integrity grows into an old man protective of his kingdom and dismissive of all criticism. He comes to see his critics, Posnanski tells us with apparent approval, as cowards.

Bill Lyon, the retired Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who covered Paterno for many years, is far more clear-eyed. When I asked Lyon for the lesson of Paterno’s disgrace, he replied with Lord Acton’s famous warning:

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he said.

Lord Acton’s full quotation is even more relevant: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Paterno is neither the hero nor the victim Posnanski would paint. My old friend has let his fondness, and his revulsion at the world’s rush to judgment, cloud his own usually clear eyes.

Paterno, who died in January of lung cancer, is a classic case of corruption over time, of ego, self-importance and self-interest slowly growing like a cancer that crowds out so many of the values that provided his original motivation. He is not, in the end, an exception to much of anything. He is the arc of human nature itself.

Two weeks out, Peyton Manning looks ready

The Broncos’ starting quarterback reminded me of something Sunday I either never knew or had forgotten. At my age, one is never sure, but I’m pretty sure Peyton Manning would call it bad preparation either way.

He reminded me that he and Lance Ball have played together before.

Ball wasn’t drafted when he came out of the Univeristy of Maryland four years ago, but the St. Louis Rams signed him to their practice squad as an undrafted free agent. They released him at the end of September and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts picked him up two weeks later, adding him to their practice squad.

On Dec. 28, the Colts activated Ball for their season finale against division rival Tennessee. Both teams had clinched playoff berths, the Titans as division champs and the Colts as a wild card. Manning started for the Colts but played only the first series. He went 7-for-7 and led his team to a touchdown.

It is perhaps worth noting that the touchdown came on a 55-yard pass play to Joseph Addai, the Colts running back. Unlike Sunday’s big play to Ball, a 38-yard rainbow up the right sideline, this was a short pass into the right flat that Addai ran the rest of the way. Still, it’s a reminder that Manning is an equal opportunity thrower — if you’re the best matchup, he’s coming your way.

Ball made his NFL debut that day, after Manning had retired for the day. He carried 13 times for 83 yards and caught one pass for five yards from Jim Sorgi.

What this means, of course, is that Ball was practicing with Manning and the Colts for most of the 2008 season. Everybody knows Manning played with Brandon Stokley and Jacob Tamme in Indianapolis and this is at least part of the calculation that puts both Stokley and Tamme on the Broncos’ final 53-man roster.

Assuming the rib injury Ball sustained in Sunday’s third preseason game isn’t too serious, I’m thinking he makes that list, too. That would leave only one possible opening at running back for Knowshon Moreno, Jeremiah Johnson or Xavier Omon, and then only if the Broncos keep four in addition to fullback Chris Gronkowski.

I could certainly be wrong about this. My record predicting the future is not that good. I nailed that they would make another Star Trek movie after Wrath of Kahn, but that’s about it.

Still, Sunday was as close as the Broncos are likely to come to a dress rehearsal for the season opener against the Steelers on Sept. 9, and Ball was part of the first-team game plan. Manning threw to him twice consecutively on the Broncos’ first touchdown drive.

The second throw, a loft so perfect up the sideline it could have been animated by Pixar, was the drive’s big play, taking the Broncos from their own 36 to the 49ers’ 26. It was also a bomb on third-and-three.

Manning’s reminder came when I asked him about that throw, which he delivered while taking a helmet to the chest. I wondered if the timing was a matter of instinct, since he couldn’t have worked on it with Ball that much.

“Well, Lance played for the Colts; he did,” Manning said.

“But in training camp we have put him outside at wide receiver a few times and have thrown that particular pattern, actually, a couple of times in training camp. So it’s always nice when you can take something you’ve worked on in practice and take it to the playing field. I thought it was a really good route and a good finish by him today.”

Manning was sharp throughout his short stint Sunday. His second touchdown pass to Eric Decker was waiting for the third-year receiver like a room service tray suspended in mid-air after Decker sold an inside fake and turned uncovered toward the left corner of the end zone.

Against last season’s No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL, Manning played one quarter, completing 10 of 12 passes for 122 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 148.6. He might be ready.

“I’ve seen steady improvement since he’s gotten here,” coach John Fox said. “That’s a tribute to him, his work ethic. I think the offensive coaches, his offensive teammates, for being a first-year guy, he’s not a young player by any stretch, but to come in and learn an offense, execute an offense with the precision he has, is pretty good.”

Manning declined a victory lap.

“Well, you’ve still got to do it every week,” he said. “I thought we did some good things today. We moved the ball pretty well and we got two touchdowns. It would have been nice to have gotten three . . . .

“I thought one thing that was nice was the defense got a turnover and the offense went out there and capitalized with a touchdown as opposed to having to settle for three. That’s always big when you can feed off one another, offense and defense.”

After managing just 38 yards rushing against Pete Carroll’s Seattle defense last week, the Broncos made the ground game a point of emphasis this week. It set no records — 26 carries, 83 yards — but was at least a viable option. Rookie Ronnie Hillman, seeing his first preseason action, had a 14-yard burst for the day’s long run, and veteran starter Willis McGahee had a 12-yard inside scamper out of a two-back set.

“I don’t think there’s really any barrier with this offense,” Manning said. “What I’ve done in my past and the teams I’ve played on I think (is) really irrelevant to this year’s team. We’re still forming our identity, seeing what plays we can hang our hat on.

“I thought coach (offensive coordinator Mike) McCoy emphasized the running game today. He challenged the guys to run the ball. I thought we did that against a good defensive front. It’s still preseason. It really carries no weight once the regular season starts, but it was good to do that and answer that challenge.”

To be sure, the Broncos still have issues. In each of the last two weeks, Manning and the first team have beaten an NFC West first team, then watched Denver’s second and third teams dominated by their counterparts. The first team led Seattle 10-9, but the Seahawks won 30-10. The first team took a 17-0 lead against San Francisco, but the Niners won 29-24. I asked Fox if consecutive flacid performances by the back end of his roster concerned him.

“Yeah, it all concerns me,” he said. “That’s kind of what I do. At the end of the day, I think we made a little bit of improvement, not a lot, but last week we flung up 21, I don’t remember what it was this time, but we’ve got work to do. When we pick the 53, you can do that a lot of different ways.”

For example, linebacker Nate Irving, a third-round draft choice in 2011 playing on the second team, was run over by 49ers third-string quarterback Josh Johnson, whom he tried to arm-tackle.

Luckily, the second team won’t be called upon to play as a unit once the games begin to matter. The first-team defense had only one major lapse. That came after Fox decided, up 17-0, to try an onside kick. It might have worked, too, if Matt Willis hadn’t grabbed it before it traveled the necessary 10 yards. Still, this is something Fox wouldn’t try on a bet in that situation if the game counted.

Given their best field position of the day, the Niners scored on the next play. Tight end Vernon Davis ran by linebacker Von Miller and safety Rahim Moore was so late getting over he looked like he’d missed his bus.

Caleb Hanie was the second quarterback in, arriving with 42 seconds left in the first quarter and the Broncos up 17-7. He was unsteady at first, throwing his second pass behind Decker into the arms of former Bronco Perrish Cox, now a Niners nickel back.

But Hanie eventually found a rhythm, leading the Broncos to a touchdown in a two-minute drill just before halftime. Rookie Brock Oswieler, second in last week, was third Sunday. Again, the offense sputtered, suggesting Hanie will be the No. 2 quarterback going into the regular season unless John Elway elects to make a waiver wire claim at the end of the week, when all 32 teams must cut down to 53-man rosters.

Ideally, Osweiler would have proven able to back up Manning right away, which would have allowed the Broncos to carry only two quarterbacks on the active roster. But through three preseason games, Osweiler, a one-year starter at Arizona State, does not look ready for prime time.

Befitting a dress rehearsal, McCoy trotted out a variety of schemes and personnel packages Sunday. Manning and the first-team offense huddled during their first series, then went no-huddle in the second. They used a two-back formation with Chris Gronkowski at fullback — it produced McGahee’s 12-yard inside run — and an empty backfield set featuring three wide receivers and two tight ends.

For much of the second series, McCoy went with a three-wide look that had the veteran Stokley in the slot, where Manning used to find him in Indianapolis. They connected twice Sunday, including a balletic tip to himself by Stokley on a third-and-six he converted into a first down.

Manning and Stokley may be the only 36-year-old pass connection in the league this year, but they looked a lot like they did in 2004, when they were both 28 and Stokley caught 68 balls for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“We wanted to do a lot better than we have in the past couple preseason games,” Stokley said. “We put some good things together. It would have been nice to score touchdowns every time we got the ball, but I thought all in all it was a lot better than the two weeks before.”

This week will be all about the problematic back end of the roster — in the game Thursday night at Arizona and in the work Elway and the front office staff does poring over the waiver wire Friday.

As for the first team, it looked ready for the curtain to rise on the regular season.

The difference between Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens

A modern Aesop’s fable unfolds in Texas this weekend: Lance Armstrong being banned permanently from his sport and Roger Clemens making a celebrated comeback in his.

They are the same, these two, in the most relevant respect: They cheated in their respective sports by using performance-enhancing drugs. Both accomplished unprecedented feats as a result. Neither has been convicted in a formal proceeding, but the evidence in the public domain is overwhelming in each case.

The difference is that Armstrong’s sport, cycling, falls under the jurisdiction of the tough U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Clemens’ sport, baseball, does not.

So Armstrong is disgraced and will soon be stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles. All of Clemens’ baseball records remain intact. The only threat to his legacy is the one baseball writers hold in their hands — withholding his otherwise automatic election to the Hall of Fame later this year.

Knowing this, and not wanting to be lumped in with fellow steroid cheats Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, also on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, it’s my guess that Clemens’ comeback, which begins Saturday night for a minor league team in Sugar Land, Texas, is a wily tactical move.

If he appears in as much as a single game for his hometown Houston Astros — and the Astros, the worst team in major league baseball, say they are open to the possibility — he will push back his eligibility for the Hall another five years. By then, the already dissipating outrage at the drug cheats may have died out altogether. He may yet slip and slide his way into being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The contrast in outcomes between Armstrong and Clemens is unfortunate for at least two reasons:

1. Armstrong, for all his faults as an apparent bully and drug cheat, has inspired millions of cancer patients around the world after coming back from testicular cancer and mounting the most famous anti-cancer campaign in the world. His yellow Livestrong bracelets adorn the wrists of cancer patients everywhere. The countless hours he has spent with those patients, particularly pediatric patients, made him one of the most admired athletes in the world.

Clemens, by contrast, is just another self-absorbed athlete of the modern age, known for little more than a great fastball, dissembling before Congress and a terrific defense attorney.

2. Armstrong and Clemens are subject to very different standards. USADA is the toughest anti-doping agency in the country. It is single-minded and relentless, as it should be. Even when federal authorities dropped their pursuit of Armstrong, it never did.

Aside from professional wrestling, perhaps no sport ignored drug cheats longer than major league baseball. For most of Clemens’ career, it had no testing program at all. Armstrong famously claimed to have passed hundreds of drug tests. Clemens didn’t have to.

Federal prosecutors failed in their attempts to get both men. Clemens was found not guilty in federal court of lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs after his defense lawyer destroyed his former trainer, the government’s star witness, and a former teammate grew suddenly uncertain about previously certain testimony. The feds didn’t even try to prosecute Armstrong.

USADA picked up where the feds left off and went after Armstrong. Baseball threw up its hands and said there was nothing to be done about past drug cheats.

There’s one other difference that affected the opinions of many fans:

In cycling around the turn of the century, virtually all of the top riders were at least blood doping, if not also using testosterone and other aids to strength and recovery. Every Tour de France winner from 1991 to 2006 was linked to doping, through positive drug tests, admissions or other evidence. There was only one goal — to come in first — and the perception was widely held among cyclists that one could not be competitive without doping.

In baseball, one could not hit 73 home runs in a season, as Bonds did, or win the ERA title at age 42, as Clemens did, without cheating. But one could do lots of other things — including being part of a championship team — without doping. And many players did.

So baseball had two classes of players — the cheaters and the non-cheaters. The latter group, naturally, resented the former group in a big way. And because the sport’s commissioner, Bud Selig, and the players’ association chief, Donald Fehr, did nothing about it for so long, a perception of unfairness, of a tilted playing field, grew among both players and fans. Even today, many members of the Baseball Hall of Fame say they will not attend the annual induction ceremony if any widely-acknowledged, never-sanctioned drug cheats are elected.

In cycling, the list of those caught and punished is a who’s who of the sport’s top stars — Armstrong, Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani, Alberto Contador, Floyd Landis and Frank Schleck among them. So a perception grew among fans that while cheating in their sport was just as morally reprehensible as it was anywhere else, it didn’t necessarily result in an unfair advantage for anyone since everyone was doing it.

Armstrong and Clemens are alike in one way. They both continue to deny cheating for public consumption despite evidence and testimony that has the court of public opinion finding both of them guilty. For admirers of both athletes, this incessant, relentless lying is perhaps the hardest part to accept. The cheating itself is often rationalized by fans as the natural result of their competitive drive combined with sports organizations that were late to enforce (or, in baseball’s case, even impose) their rules. Indeed, there is a libertarian strain of thought that says what they do to their own bodies is their business.

But the ongoing lies are a constant reminder that these are not, ultimately, men of honor, men worthy of admiration, even if some of their acts are.

The difference is Armstrong will now suffer his long-delayed punishment. He has given up the fight against USADA’s case, knowing he could not beat it. He will ultimately be stripped of his Tour titles, his name expunged from cycling’s record books.

Clemens will suffer no such punishment from his sport. In fact, he will be celebrated Saturday night as he begins his comeback bid at age 50 in Sugar Land, just outside his hometown of Houston. Sometime soon, it is very likely he will take the mound for the woebegone Astros, who could use the attendance bump, thereby delaying for five years the only sanction he might face — not from his sport, but from the writers who cover it.

In the end, dirty as it was, cycling can at least make the case that it has worked tirelessly to clean itself up and identify the cheaters. Baseball can make no such claim. It did finally impose rules and testing, although not until Congress embarrassed Selig and Fehr on national television. Even so, its system is not nearly as rigorous as USADA’s.

But baseball never made any attempt to identify the drug cheats. Many of its records, including all its major home run records, are held by known cheaters. Selig won’t countenance so much as an asterisk by these marks.

So this weekend Armstrong will absorb his public disgrace in Austin and Clemens will take the mound to cheers and acclaim 150 miles away. After all these years, cycling can say it finally set things right. Baseball never will.

The moral to our modern fable? If you’re going to cheat in athletics, pick a sport with spineless leadership.

Relax: Peyton Manning is right on schedule

Q: Obviously, no quarterback wants to take a big hit, but you took a big hit, bounced right back up. Was it nice just to kind of get that out of the way?

A: Yes.

Q: How’d you feel? I mean, was it . . . ?

A: Do what? How did I . . . ?

Q: I mean, that just tells you everything’s OK?

A: Yeah. Yeah.

This was my favorite exchange between Peyton Manning and the wretches Saturday night after preseason game No. 2. It was sort of a Saturday Night Live routine, complete with laughter from the other wretches at a colleague’s inability to elicit a quote on Manning’s much-anticipated first hit.

You may find it unsettling that a professional wretch was unable, in three tries, to frame a question that couldn’t be answered with a yes or no, but I’m here to tell you that horse left the barn a long time ago.

Everything about Saturday night’s practice game will be deconstructed, because that’s more fun than talking about unemployment, but it’s important to remember that it was only practice. The Broncos got out of it exactly what they wanted, at least in the first half.

As for the second half, which Seattle dominated thoroughly, the Broncos didn’t really need to be told that their second string isn’t very good because they already knew it. When your second-string linebacking corps consists of a disappointing draft pick from a year ago (Nate Irving) and two undrafted free agents (Jerry Franklin and Steven Johnson), depth at that position is not a strength. This is partially because of a suspension (D.J. Williams) and partially because of injuries (Danny Trevathan, Keith Brooking, Mike Mohamed).

Whether they knew their second-string offensive line would be unable to sustain any sort of running game I don’t know. Actually, their first-string offensive line didn’t do much better opening holes for runners, but it did earn Manning’s praise for its pass protection. He threw 23 passes before intermission without being sacked, although he did take that first hit as he was throwing a ball away.

The main thing Broncos brass learned about their second string is that rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler is not ready to step in if something happens to Manning. At least, he wasn’t Saturday night.

The Seahawks drafted their rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, 18 picks after the Broncos selected Osweiler, but he looked much more ready for prime time. Of course, Osweiler started only one season at Arizona State, so he might be expected to take longer to get up to NFL speed. In the entire second half, he and the Broncos managed one first down while Wilson and the Seahawks piled up 16.

It would be nice to see Adam Weber get some work with the second team next week, although coach John Fox may feel now that Caleb Hanie needs those snaps to get ready for the season.

Luckily, once the games begin to count, entire second strings will not get much of a chance to play one another.

In the first half, with the first strings in the game, the Broncos dominated the statistics while the Seahawks dominated the time of possession. This is mostly because the Seahawks ran the ball successfully while the Broncos, with the exception of their lone touchdown drive, did not. Manning ran the no-huddle throughout, completing 16 of his 23 passes. That’s 69.6 percent, which is very good.

But he also made a couple of bad throws or bad decisions that turned into interceptions, ending two of his five possessions. Lance Ball fumbled to end a third. The other two would have been touchdowns except tight end Jacob Tamme dropped a pass in his hands at the goal line with 6 seconds left in the half and they had to settle for a field goal.

“Obviously disappointing that we turned the ball over three times, two interceptions on my part,” Manning said. “No excuse for that. I thought we did move the ball well at times and took some long drives. Just got to do a better job of finishing drives and have to eliminate the turnovers and keep our defense out of bad situations.”

What caused the interceptions?

“Every interception has its own story; nobody really wants to hear it at the end of the day,” Manning said.

“They’re interceptions. The quarterback signs the check on every ball that he throws. There’s an old saying that the most important part about every play is to possess the ball at the end of that play. That’s the quarterback’s job and I have to do a better job of that. Two interceptions tonight, two in the red zone two weeks in a row. Just can’t have it. Tipped balls, whatever it is, can’t have it. Gotta find a way to protect the ball better and ensure we get some kind of points when we’re down there in the red zone.”

Somebody asked what happened on the throw to Tamme at the goal line, trying to get Manning to say Tamme dropped it.

“It’s hard to say,” Manning said. “I didn’t see the film. It was an incomplete pass. We got the field goal there. I thought we had good field position. The penalty (unnecessary roughness on center J.D. Walton) put us in a tough spot. First and 21 from the 21 wasn’t ideal. Got back into decent field position and had a shot at it and obviously it would have been nice to have a little more time there, have a couple more downs. But Jacob Tamme is going to play a huge role for this team this year and it’s not a factor in my mind.”

In other words, No, I’m not throwing Jacob Tamme under the bus for dropping a ball, especially on a night when I threw two picks. Why are you asking me what happened there? Weren’t you watching?

The interceptions were both Manning mistakes. The first, on his fifth snap of the game, he threw right at Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant. Bryant was so surprised all he could do was bat it into the air, where linebacker K.J. Wright grabbed it. I don’t know if Manning failed to see Bryant or misread a zone drop or what, but he’ll certainly be able to tell from the video. Consider it a bit of rust after 19 months off.

The second was a third-and-10 where he tried to force a ball down the field to tight end Joel Dreessen to avoid a three-and-out. It overflew Dreessen directly into the arms of Seahawks strong safety Jeron Johnson. Dreessen wisely took the blame.

“I’ve got to find a way to make that catch, honestly,” he said. “I don’t know, I kind of stuck my hand up there and was like ‘Crap, I don’t know if I can reach it.’ I looked like a chicken. It looked like I gator-armed it. But I’ve got to find a way to make that play.”

From my vantage point in the press box, the ball looked overthrown into crowded coverage. After watching the video, I’m sure Manning will come to a conclusion about whether the pass or the decision to throw the pass was the mistake. Either way, judging by the look on his face afterward, I’m guessing he won’t make that particular mistake again.

This is a perfectionist who had multiple neck surgeries, sat out a full season and is now coming back with a new team, new playbook, new terminology and mostly new receivers. This is not like making instant coffee. With apologies to Allen Iverson, this is what practice is for.

There were stretches of really good offense that reminded you of Manning’s offenses in Indianapolis, punctuated by mistakes, by short circuits, that will send him, his coaches and his teammates back to work.

“We did a lot of good things and then we kind of did a few bad things,” said veteran receiver Brandon Stokley. “That’s what you take away from this game. You look at the mistakes that you made and you try to get those corrected. And if we get those corrected, we’ve got a chance to do some good things.”

As for the chemistry between Manning and his new receiving corps?

“We’re still working on it,” Stokley said. “It’s still a work in progress. We know that and we’re working hard every day in practice trying to get to be perfect. That’s what good offenses do. It takes time, and we’re trying to get there.”

Most years, fans would like to see fewer preseason games. This year, Broncos fans should wish for more. Fox extended Manning’s playing time in preseason game No. 2 from the usual quarter or so to a half.

“It’s nice to be back out there playing,” Manning said. “And I think the more I play, hopefully the more comfortable I will get. It will be nice next week, I think I’ll play probably into the third quarter. I think the flow of the game tonight is why we probably played into the half, which I was happy about, and I know the offense was happy about. You always want to score points every single time. I think we can build on this, but I still think there’s some things that we have to improve on, some things I need to improve on.”

For the crowd, the biggest play of the night was probably when Manning went down late in the second quarter as he was throwing the ball away, sandwiched between two Seahawks defenders. Finally, that first hit he’d been asked about for the last five months. It was as if it held its collective breath, waiting for him to get up.

When he climbed quickly to his feet, the crowd roared. When he hit Stokley in stride for a 22-yard gain on the next play — “a great ball, perfectly thrown, right when I cleared the defender the ball was there,” Stokley said — it roared some more.

“It was kind of weird to cheer an incomplete pass, just cheering a guy getting up,” Stokley said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to answer that question any more.”

Doctors have told Manning and Broncos officials for months that his neck is stronger than it’s ever been; the issue related to his surgery is the regeneration of the nerves that provide his arm strength.

Nevertheless, the myth took hold that a single tackle could end his comeback. So the play that was a big event for fans was a non-event for Manning and his mates. But it was another mile marker on the road back.

The wretches, of course, came back around to it, still looking for a quote. Had he heard the cheer?

“I might have, yes,” Manning allowed. “I’ve never heard a crowd cheer for an incompletion before.”

Was the best part getting over getting hit or not having to answer any more questions about it?

Once more, the form of the question gave Manning an out, and once more, as if reading a blown coverage, he took it:

“Both of them are just fine with me,” he said.

Nuggets’ best bet: Let Iguodala test free agency

Nuggets brass finally got a chance to introduce the team’s newest star to local media and fans Thursday, a ceremony delayed for a week by those pesky Olympics.

I showed up at Andre Iguodala’s first Denver press conference to ask the questions that arose when the trade was made:

— Do the Nuggets and Iguodala have an understanding about the parameters of a new contract?

— Will Iguodala exercise the early termination option in his current contract, which would make him a free agent following his first season in Colorado?

— Whether it happens after one season or two, will the Nuggets let him test the market, as they did with Nene, and risk losing him if another team is willing to overpay him?

— If not, are the Nuggets amenable to a max contract for Iguodala, a very good player, but a questionable value at 30-35 percent of the salary cap?

Iguodala and Nuggets general manger Masai Ujiri said all the right things in response to this line of questioning, but they also kept their remarks pretty vague.

When I asked Iguodala about the early termination option in his contract, this was his reply:

“Well, it’s funny because Masai and I spoke about we’re both looking forward and what he expected from me and things that I wanted to accomplish. We weren’t coming into this thinking this would be just a one-year deal. We were looking towards the future.

“So definitely already looking ahead and looking to see how we can go forward and this not being just a quick stop for me. Knowing this is a great organization, got a lot of feedback from a lot of different guys — former players, current players, even the trainers, about the organization and this would be a great place for me to have some great years ahead of me and possibly ending my career here.”

So, are the two sides already at work on a new deal?

“No, we haven’t spoken about the actual deal, but just how this wasn’t going to be just a one-stop,” Iguodala said. “This is definitely a place that I could see myself for more than just a year or two.”

The devil, of course, is in the details. What contract number would it take to keep Iguodala from testing the free agent market, either next summer or the summer after that? And would it be a number so big that it eliminates the financial flexibility Nuggets management has cultivated ever since it began dismantling a roster that was top-heavy with big contracts for Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin?

I reminded Ujiri of the Melodrama and his vow never to put the Nuggets in that position again.

“Before we get into stuff like this, obviously, we do our homework and we try to do our due diligence,” he said. “No, we don’t want to be in that situation again, and we’ve had good conversation with Rob Pelinka, Andre’s agent, and also Andre. And Andre has indicated that this is somewhere he would love to play.

“So negotiations and all that stuff, it’s our job and we’ll do it and we’ll figure it out. We’ll take it a step at a time and we’re just glad to have a player of his caliber in our organization.”

I followed up by asking if he has a timetable in mind.

“Timetable doesn’t matter, in our opinion,” Ujiri said. “It will come. We’ll figure it out at some point.”

To refresh your memory, Iguodala is scheduled to be one of the 25 highest-paid players in the NBA this season at $14.7 million. The final year of his current contract, 2013-14, calls for a salary of $15.9 million.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, he would be eligible for a max contract next summer starting at about $16 million with annual bumps of 7.5 percent. If he plays out the final two years on his current contract, he would be eligible for a max contract starting at $19 million in the summer of 2014.

It is difficult to imagine Pelinka, who also represents Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, forgoing free agency for Iguodala in exchange for much less than a max contract.

There’s just one problem: Iguodala is not worth that much money. He’s a very nice player, but not that nice. With the luxury tax growing increasingly punitive in the out years of the new collective bargaining agreement, a four- or five-year max contract would have a significant effect on the Nuggets’ ability to add any other pieces. It would essentially be a statement that the current cast, with Iguodala, is good enough to contend for a championship.

None of this should be interpreted as criticism of Iguodala as a player. He is one of the game’s most versatile performers. He’s a premier perimeter defender, an excellent passer and a capable scorer in the open court. He is also utterly unselfish, a rare trait in top NBA players, and should fit very nicely into George Karl’s offensive system, which depends upon both unselfishness and athleticism.

He is not, however, a great halfcourt offensive player and he does not fill the Nuggets’ most obvious offensive need — a player with the nerve and ability to take and make a contested final shot with the game on the line.

For all the skills he brings to the table, it is very rare for a player who has never averaged 20 points a game for an entire season to get a max contract.

So the questions remain: Are the Nuggets willing to give him one, or something close to it, to prevent him from testing free agency? Are Iguodala and Pelinka willing to accept anything less to forgo free agency? And if the answer to both of those questions is no, what happens then?

Here’s my theory: The Nuggets, like most of the other teams in the NBA, believe the 76ers overpaid Iguodala. He has very little motivation to opt out of the final year of his current deal because it’s highly unlikely anyone else will offer the $15.9 million he’d be opting out of.

So that gives the Nuggets two years to come up with a new deal. It also gives them the option of taking it all the way out to the end of his current contract. As they did with Nene, they could offer Iguodala the opportunity to test free agency, where they would have an advantage over any other suitor — the ability to offer a fifth year.

They would be gambling that no other team would make him a crazy offer, but that’s a gamble Ujiri took with Nene and it worked out.

It’s seems unlikely that Pelinka would approve a new contract that starts significantly below what Iguodala’s current contract pays him. It seems just as unlikely that the Nuggets would extend him at that level unless they have no choice. So the best option for both sides may well be Iguodala playing out the final two years of his current contract and then letting the market determine what happens next.

Is Andre Iguodala worth a max contract?

The hosannahs are already pouring in for Masai Ujiri, general manager of the Nuggets, who finds himself in that rare and enviable position of public figures in the modern world where everything he does is great, and when he undoes it six months later, that’s great, too.

When he signed Nene to a big, new contract last December, that was great because you don’t want to lose a free agent for nothing. And when he traded Nene to Washington for JaVale McGee three months later, that was great because Nene wasn’t really worth all that money.

Similarly, when he signed Arron Afflalo to a big, new contract about the same time he signed Nene, that was great because of Afflalo’s considerable upside. And when he traded Afflalo today as part of the blockbuster four-team deal that delivered the best center in the game to the Los Angeles Lakers for the fourth time in modern history, that was great because Afflalo wasn’t really worth all that money, either.

Ujiri’s popularity is understandable. He made lemonade out of the Carmelo Anthony mess and he is Boris Yeltsin to predecessor Mark Warkentien’s Leonid Brezhnev when it comes to openness and public accountability. He’s been honest about the challenges of contending in a league where superstars prefer the glamor markets and Denver isn’t one of them.

But Ujiri’s willingness to rapidly undo whatever he’s just done must be considered in weighing the latest deal, which brings to the Nuggets a quasi-star in Andre Iguodala. In exchange, the Nuggets surrendered Afflalo, Al Harrington and a first-round draft pick.

“Iggy,” as he’s known (because in Philadelphia, AI was already taken), is a very good player. He made the men’s Olympic team this year because he’s an outstanding on-the-ball defender — in basketball parlance, a stopper. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands all the time, but he’s a capable scorer when he has it, particularly in the open court.

On the other hand, he’s not a great shooter — career .461 — and particularly not a great free-throw shooter, which earned him the scorn of 76ers fans at a number of clutch moments last season, when he shot just .617 from the line, a career low. You’ll see him referred to in accounts of the deal as an All-Star and Olympian, which is true but also a little misleading in that each of these things happened once and may or may not happen again.

Those issues aside, Iggy will improve the Nuggets’ defense, which badly needs it. For the coming season, barring injury, it is a worthwhile exchange. The problems are two-fold — the big picture and the seasons beyond the next one.

The big picture

What the Nuggets have done here is help to facilitate the latest migration of a superstar to one of the NBA’s chosen franchises. Orlando and the Lakers were unable to swing a conventional two-team trade, in large part because the Magic didn’t want to deal with a repeat of the Howard drama as Andrew Bynum approached free agency. So the two teams needed other teams to facilitate the latest heist by the Lakers.

In the 33 seasons since 1980, when the NBA came back to life on the back of a sensational rookie named Magic Johnson, only nine of the association’s 30 franchises have won championships.

The Lakers lead this tally with 10 out of the 33. Some of this success was based on good fortune. When Gail Goodrich became a free agent in 1976 and signed with New Orleans, no one knew one of the compensatory draft picks the Lakers received would turn into the first overall pick — Magic — three years later. And it was Jerry West’s prescience as a general manager that got the Lakers a 17-year-old prodigy named Kobe Bryant in a trade with the unsuspecting Charlotte Hornets two weeks after the 1996 NBA draft.

But it’s also undeniable that the Lakers’ success is built upon the explicit desire of the game’s greatest centers to leave wherever they were for the bright lights of Hollywood. This trend began with Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 and continued with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974 and Shaquille O’Neal in 1996.

It is as if great big men have a divine right to play in L.A. and the Lakers have a similar right to acquire them, one way or another. In markets such as Denver, where an NBA championship remains a distant dream, the association’s alleged interest in competitive balance becomes a punch line.

Howard is the second Orlando star to migrate west in a generation, following Shaq. This is significant for the Nuggets, obviously, because they play in the same conference with the Lakers. In fact, it was the Lakers who eliminated them from the playoffs just last spring. Adding Howard to a team that already includes Bryant makes the Lakers once again the favorites to come out of the West.

The Nuggets say the trade would have happened with or without them.

“We found a way to get in afterward,” general manager Masai Ujiri said Friday on the Dave Logan Show. “It could easily have been a three-way deal and Iggy would have been in Orlando.”

The seasons beyond

Besides the likely ascendance of the Lakers yet again, the downside of the deal for the Nuggets is that it embroils them almost immediately in another contract drama.

In addition to all his attributes, Iguodala, unfortunately, is also overpaid, which is why more teams weren’t clamoring to get their hands on him. He will earn $14.7 million this season, which is OK with the Nuggets because Afflalo and Harrington combined will earn $14.2 million. Close enough for government work or NBA salary cap accounting.

After that, Iggy has a player option for 2013-14 of $15.9 million, meaning he can elect to become a free agent either next summer or the summer after that. Either way, NBA players are seldom looking for pay cuts.

If he opts out of the final year of his current contract to go for one more long-term deal at 29 rather than 30, he will be eligible under the new collective bargaining agreement for a contract starting at $16 million a year and growing at an annual rate of 7.5 percent. If he waits until the summer of 2014, he’ll be a 10-year player eligible for a max contract that starts at $19 million and expands from there. Whether any team offers him such a deal, of course, remains to be seen.

As nice a player as Iggy is, he’s not worth 30-35 percent of the salary cap, especially as the luxury tax gets more punitive in the out years of the new labor agreement. Which leaves the Nuggets with the usual three choices:

— Overpay to keep him, delivering a max contract to a player who has never averaged 20 points a game in his career.

— Trade him before he can leave as a free agent, meaning possibly as soon as this winter, depending on whether he makes an early commitment on that player option year.

— Roll the dice, as they did with Nene, and hope they can get him at a more reasonable rate as a free agent.

Ujiri suggested such questions are premature.

“When the time comes, we’ll figure that out,” he said. “We didn’t get him as a rental. We want to win. All those other things I think we will figure out.”

The trade would make sense in the short term if the Nuggets thought they were ready to contend for a championship this season. But the youth of Denver’s best players — point guard Ty Lawson and forward Danilo Gallinari are each 24 years old — and the formidable Lakers lineup in the twilight of Bryant’s career suggest the Nuggets’ window for championship contention is likely to be later rather than sooner.

Ujiri’s decision seems simple enough. He thinks Iguodala makes the Nuggets better, which is probably true. But the issues surrounding his contract can’t be put off for long. In the end, there’s no guarantee the Iggy era in Denver will be much more than a passing fancy. Here’s hoping it’s fun while it lasts.

Tom Jackson: ‘There is a collective sigh of relief and a sense of joy in this building’

As a former teammate, Tom Jackson felt for John Elway from afar last year.

“Some of the stuff that I heard, and I hear everything that goes on in this town, some of the stuff that was happening over the net and the tweets that were coming when he attempted to tell the truth about his feelings about Tim (Tebow), I think he was somewhat shocked by the reaction of fans: ‘You need to leave town.’ ‘You’re jealous of him.’ It was hurtful. I wish I would have been around here when that happened. They would have heard an earful,” Jackson said during a recent visit to Broncos training camp.

As a member of the Orange Crush defense of the late 1970s, Jackson admits he’s partial to the Broncos, but it’s as a long-time analyst for ESPN that he says the Broncos with Peyton Manning are the best story in the NFL going into the 2012 season. And he thinks the events of Elway’s first 18 months running the Broncos front office may represent the most dramatic change of direction in NFL history.

“The stars had to be perfectly aligned for this to happen,” he said. “I always speak frankly: What happened last year is that there was a clamoring from the Tebow faithful for Tim to play football. I think that the Broncos resisted that as long as they could.

“At some point they said, and it had to do somewhat with Kyle Orton not playing very well, they said, ‘OK, we’re going to let you see him and see what we see.’ I believe they used the term at times in a different context, ‘You don’t see him every day.’ So they were going to go, OK, you’re going to get to see what we see every day. And they put him in.

“And then Tim won. And he won a lot. And he won in the most remarkable fashion that I’ve ever seen. So by the time you got to the end of the year with the win against Pittsburgh, if you were John, if you were this organization — and I think it’s the right of every GM, vice president of football operations, to do two things: name your head coach and name your quarterback — and John was having that opportunity taken from him. And I believe that without this alignment of the stars, Tim was your quarterback, period. And maybe more than a year. He was just going to be entrenched as the quarterback.

“Peyton becomes available, somehow John and Pat Bowlen land him, and now we’re going to have a revision of what goes on here in Denver. This is the story in the NFL, is this guy returning to play football, the once and only four-time MVP of the National Football League, returning to play football. And it’s a remarkable story.”

But will he be the Peyton Manning of old? Studies of late-stage veterans changing teams are all the rage. Will Manning be more like Ray Bourque in Denver or John Unitas in San Diego? Or maybe somewhere in between — say, Joe Montana in Kansas City? What about the Broncos’ receivers? What about the defense? (And, in light of Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage, what about the offensive line?) Are they good enough to constitute the supporting cast of a championship contender?

“I think that they’re going to be a pretty good team because I have faith that Peyton is going to be a pretty good quarterback,” Jackson said. “John Elway did his homework before he made this move. I was just like a lot of people — very pessimistic about the fact that Peyton could come back and return to form.

“You talk to some medical experts, they all say the same thing: His neck is fine. As soon as he strengthens the arm, as he has, he should be fine to play. I worry a little bit about the rust. When he lines up against the Steelers (in the Sept. 9 season opener), he will be 20 months having not played a meaningful game.

“But given that, if Peyton is back to form, which I think he will be, then all of those things that you talked about become better. You lose 20-25 percent of your running game because Tim Tebow leaves. You gain 20-25 percent because Peyton’s going to pull two or three guys out of the box, at least one or two.

“The defense, I was talking to Von Miller, Von and Elvis get 21 sacks (last season). I told him, ‘I have no idea how you do that when you’re behind all the time.’  If Peyton comes in and puts up 20-plus points per game, then you’re going to have a better opportunity to play defense because it’s easier to play when you have the lead.

“The wide receivers, (Eric) Decker, Demaryius Thomas, (Brandon) Stokley; the tight ends, (Jacob) Tamme, (Joel) Dreessen, all of those players are pretty good players. They will be made better by the guy pulling the trigger.

“All you need do is be around here to understand that there is a collective sigh of relief and a sense of joy in this building that did not exist when I was here last year. And I can feel it and it’s permeating every area of this football team.

“I think they’re almost hesitant to talk about it because they see it as a bashing of what they did last year, or a bashing of Tebow, to really go overboard on what they’re feeling about Peyton being here. But I think as time goes on they’ll get more and more relaxed with the fact that this, as Gene Hackman said in Hoosiers, this is your team. Feel comfortable this is your squad. Not something that’s going on in New York. Not the attention given to someone else. This is your team.”

Jackson’s Broncos career overlapped with Elway’s for four seasons: 1983-86, so he’s known him since he was the fresh-faced rookie who once lined up under guard. Having watched him since, he thinks Elway has a good chance to be a notable exception to the old saw about great players not being great executives or coaches.

“I believe that John is going to have great success over the long run, whether it’s in terms of the players that they’re picking — Von Miller probably the most high profile amongst them thus far — or going out and being able to get a Peyton Manning when there were numerous teams that wanted him. That move is going to resonate for a long time with him and this organization.

“John just has a golden touch. He understands the game. I think he has a clear vision of what he wants to do. And that’s why I felt for him last year because my thought was that vision was being taken away from him.

“I said this actually on ESPN, for those that think that he was jealous, if you heard his comment about Peyton upon arrival — “I want Peyton Manning to be the greatest quarterback of all time.” — well, that would mean that he’s better than John.

“So I think it speaks really to what’s important to John right now. And I want people to know this: John has a great love and affection for Pat Bowlen. So I don’t think it’s as much John doing it for John as it is John doing it for Pat.”

I reminded Jackson of Bowlen’s famous line, “This one’s for John,” holding aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy when the Broncos won their first Super Bowl in Elway’s 15th season, and asked if he thought Elway was trying to return the favor.

“This one’s for John,” Jackson said, smiling. “This one’s for Pat.”

Broncos’ first 2012 depth chart written in pencil

The Broncos released their first depth chart of the season this morning, but at some positions it doesn’t necessarily reflect the way they’ve been practicing.

A depth chart is required the week of the first preseason game and the Broncos play at Chicago on Thursday night.

With most of the starters set, the most interesting choices are on the second team. For example, Caleb Hanie is listed as Peyton Manning’s backup at quarterback, with rookie Brock Osweiler listed as third string and Adam Weber fourth. But during the first 10 days of training camp, Hanie and Osweiler have been splitting second-team reps, with Osweiler seeming to get the better of the comparison in the early going.

At Saturday’s summer scrimmage, Osweiler was the fourth quarterback in, but that may have been a nod to his rookie status. Asked about the order afterward, coach John Fox said they were 2a, 2b and 2c — in other words, he’s keeping an open mind until he gets to see them in preseason game action.

Similarly, rookie Ronnie Hillman is listed as third string at running back, behind Willis McGahee and Lance Ball. Hillman, a third-round draft pick out of San Diego State, is likely to be the No. 2 running back as soon as he gets healthy (hamstring).

More significant is Knowshon Moreno, a first-round pick (12th overall) in 2009 by former coach Josh McDaniels, being listed as fourth string. Moreno does not appear fully recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last November. He might be eligible for the injured list exemption approved as part of the new collective bargaining agreement — one player can return from the list during the season — but he would have to be on the 53-man roster in Week 1.

Other rookies who appear to be listed lower on the depth chart than they’ve been practicing include center Philip Blake, who has shared second-team snaps with C.J. Davis; defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, who has shared first-team snaps at left defensive end with Jason Hunter; and linebacker Jerry Franklin, who has shared second team snaps at strong-side linebacker with Nate Irving.

A year ago, in the first depth chart of 2011, Irving was listed at middle linebacker and fellow 2011 draft pick Mike Mohamed at strong-side linebacker. In the first depth chart of 2012, those positions are reversed. Mohamed is now listed as Joe Mays’ backup at middle backer.

The signing of veteran Keith Brooking on Monday may affect the chart here. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Brooking is 36.

Robert Ayers, like Moreno a first-round pick in 2009, was demoted from starting left defensive end at the end of last season to second-team right defensive end, behind Elvis Dumervil.

The weak-side linebackers are also listed too low on the depth chart because D.J. Williams is listed as the starter, even though he’ll miss at least the first six games of the season for failing a league drug test. Wesley Woodyard, listed as second team, and sixth-round draft pick Danny Trevathan, listed third, have both gotten work with there with the first team in practice.

Veteran Mike Adams is listed as the second-string strong safety, although he was getting as many reps as nominal starter Quinton Carter before Carter injured his knee and has gotten nearly all of them since.

The top four cornerbacks are listed accurately — Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter with the first team; Drayton Florence and Chris Harris with the second. Rookie Omar Bolden and veteran Tony Carter are listed with the third team, which means returning 2010 draft pick Syd’Quan Thompson may have to win the punt returner competition to make the squad.

No electronics no problem for Manning

You don’t necessarily expect the electronic communication system between coaches and the quarterback to go down in the first scrimmage of the year, but when it happened Saturday during the Broncos’ summer scrimmage, it left Peyton Manning doing what he does so often anyway — calling his own play.

Not surprisingly, it turned into the only touchdown of the sun-splashed afternoon.

“I thought (Eric) Decker’s back-shoulder touchdown catch was awesome,” Manning said of the play.

“It was excellent coverage by (Drayton) Florence, but Decker did a good job kind of holding his eyes until the last minute. Back-shoulder fades are a hard route to cover. That was something he and I had been working on, so it was good to kind of put that in play today.”

I mentioned that Manning checked off on the third-down red-zone play and appeared to leave only one second on the play clock.

“The headphones went down, actually,” he said. “Sometimes those do, on occasion. So instead of burning the timeout, coach (offensive coordinator Mike) McCoy just told me, ‘Hey, if the phones go down, just call something that you like.’

“The defense was blitzing, kind of showing man-to-man. Obviously, one-on-one on the outside, Decker and (Demaryius) Thomas have to win. So that was a good play to see out of that guy today.”

When I asked head coach John Fox if he expects to get accustomed to seeing one second on the play clock when the ball is snapped, he laughed.

“I think 18 does a pretty good job of managing the game and the offense,” he said.

The day before, Manning stopped by the KOA tent at Dove Valley and talked about what he’s looking for out of his new receiving corps.

“I think what you want to see is a guy who’s got an excellent work ethic who really wants to get better, who truly wants to master his craft,” Manning said. “I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of guys who just wanted to get better every day.

“I had a receiver in Marvin Harrison who never missed a practice (and) only would go against the starting corner. If he were here, he would not go unless Champ (Bailey) was going to cover him. He wanted to get better every day. Those are the kind of guys I like playing with and that’s the kind of work ethic I’m seeing so far in these guys.

“Eric and Demaryius, they’re young guys but boy, they really take care of their bodies, they work hard in the weight room, they’re into it in meetings and in practice. I just have a real appreciation for that, being a veteran player seeing a young player with that kind of work ethic, and both of them have a ton of ability.

“To me it is a process, though. You can’t say you’re on the exact same page with a guy after four months. You could argue it might take two seasons to master everything. But you try to get it as good as you can. We do spend a lot of time talking in these walk-throughs, talking on the sideline.

“To me, in practice there’s never a time that you can’t do something to get better. Talk to the guy after the route on the sideline. Whether it’s a completion or an incompletion: ‘Hey, that was exactly what we’re looking for there.’ Or, ‘Here, you might have to cut that route off at 10 yards instead of 12.’ Just the little things because you want to just try to get it right. Because the game’s happening so fast out there, the more you can be on the same page, the better chance you have.”

Being able to count on a receiver being exactly where he’s supposed to be is critical, Manning explained, because on many pass plays, he never sees his intended target.

“As a quarterback, you’ve got guys in front of you, you’ve got rush, you’ve got hands up,” he said. “Dropping back, very rarely do you actually see the receiver. You’re throwing to a spot. Maybe now and then in man-to-man you might lock in on a guy and see, but on these zone coverages, you’re throwing it 18 yards on the hash, on the fifth step of the drop, whatever it may be.

“He’s got to be there. If he’s at 16, it’s not going to be complete. You’re throwing to the spot. That’s where the reps in practice and routes versus air, they’re so important, because they’ve got to be in that spot and you’ve got to trust the guy that he’s going to be there.”

With fans screaming his name and offering jerseys, programs and hats, Manning spent 10 or 15 minutes signing autographs when the scrimmage was over. The Broncos reported 41,304 fans were in attendance at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a record for the Broncos’ summer scrimmage. Most of the lower deck and club level were filled. A few fans even dotted the upper deck.

“It was a great crowd,” Manning said. “No question the fans were into it. A beautiful day here in Denver. The players were excited. It was a little change in the routine to get out here into the stadium and play in front of the crowd. It really felt like a game atmosphere with the crowd and our pre-game routine. So I knew it was good for me and for a lot of the players going into the game against Chicago on Thursday.”

Should the Broncos consider moving Champ Bailey to safety?

With each passing year, the question comes up more often: At what point do the Broncos consider moving Champ Bailey, their incomparable defensive back, from corner to safety?

Rod Woodson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive back in 2009. The 10th overall pick of the 1987 draft out of Purdue, Woodson played 15 seasons in the NFL, the first 10 as a cornerback. He was named to seven Pro Bowls in that role.

In 1999, the year he turned 34, Woodson transitioned to safety, extending his career another five years. He was named to four more Pro Bowls in that role. After intercepting 47 passes in 10 seasons at cornerback, Woodson picked off 24 more in five seasons at safety.

Charles Woodson (no relation) is another elite defensive back. He was the fourth overall selection of the 1998 draft out of Michigan. After 14 seasons at cornerback, including eight Pro Bowls, the Packers moved him to safety in training camp this summer. Woodson is 35.

“They said, ‘Hey, you’re playing safety. Get back there,'”Woodson told the Chicago Tribune. “That’s what I did.”

Part of the reason is that Woodson has lost a step, which is more evident when he’s matched up in man coverage on the outside with the game’s elite pass receivers, many of them much younger than he is.

But the Packers, who struggled on defense last season, also want to give one of their best defenders more freedom to roam. This is a player with 54 career interceptions, including seven last season at age 34.

“I think something that’s been very evident for Charles, number one throughout his career, he’s been a playmaker, whether he’s played the corner or the inside position,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told the Tribune.

“In our particular defense, we feel that he is a lot more valuable to us the closer he is to the ball because of the different positions he can play, the number of different things that we’re able to do with him. So that’s really part of the thinking of trying to get him closer to the ball and more involved because of his instincts. He plays the game a lot like a quarterback does from the defensive side.”

At least in training camp’s early days, Woodson says he’s enjoying the switch.

“It’s different from corner, where you’re usually worried about a particular receiver and how he can threaten you as a corner,” Charles Woodson said. “As a safety, you get to move around a little bit more and show different looks and not have that responsibility of just having one guy. It will be fun to play more safety. I’m getting a lot more of the calls as a safety. I’m used to being out at corner and seeing plays from that angle. To be able to play at safety and really, really, really understand the play even more, I think will play to my advantage.”

Bailey entered the league one year after Charles Woodson and, coincidentally, the same year Rod Woodson moved from corner to safety. He was the seventh overall pick of the 1999 draft out of Georgia. He turned 34 in June.

Bailey has played 13 seasons at cornerback for the Redskins and Broncos and been named to a record 11 Pro Bowls. He is arguably as good a cover corner as the league has ever seen.

He is not only the best player on the Broncos defense, he is also the smartest. Unfortunately, that means he gets few opportunities to add to his career total of 50 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks generally choose to throw to receivers not being covered by Champ Bailey.

That’s one argument for eventually moving him to safety: He might see more balls there. And, for the first time in his nine years in Denver, the Broncos might have enough cover guys to be able to spare him. With newly-acquired veterans Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence to go with youngsters Chris Harris, Omar Bolden and Syd’Quan Thompson, they have reasonable depth at cornerback.

Of course, with veteran Mike Adams joining Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter and David Bruton, they are reasonably deep at safety, too, at least before the games — and injuries — begin.

So I mentioned to Bailey that we get the corner/safety question quite a bit on the radio show and asked if he’s thought much about it.

“This is my take on it,” he said. “Don’t move me until I can’t do it anymore, or it makes sense for our defense.

“There’s no reason for me to move if I’m still locking up on the No. 1 guy every week or I’m still making sure nobody’s making big plays on me. I don’t see any sense in me moving. It doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m going to keep playing corner until I can’t anymore.”

Bailey may have lost a step over the years, but he’s made up for it with knowledge and experience, reading receivers and anticipating where they’re going. One day it might be time for him to make the switch the two Woodsons made before him. But watching him take on young receiver Demaryius Thomas in training camp with the enthusiasm of a kid, it looks as though that time has not yet arrived.