THE FIFTH DOWN; From Colts to Broncos, a Quarterback’s Wild Ride

If the two-week Peyton Manning Derby felt like a whirlwind to fans, imagine how it must have felt for Manning. The life of an in-demand millionaire may appear glamorous on the surface, but a closer look reveals a long succession of endless meetings, carefully choreographed flights, and long rides in suspicious-looking vehicles. Here is a recap of the major events of a 15-day turning point in N.F.L. history.

MARCH 4 With a final decision on Manning’s future with the Colts still a few days away, 27 seconds of grainy, distant cellphone footage of Manning throwing footballs at Duke University goes viral. A confused Dan Snyder of the Redskins offers three future first-round draft picks for the monster from Cloverfield.

MARCH 6, LATE NIGHT Manning and the Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, fly into Indianapolis together for a joint news conference. ”It was a long, emotional flight … now the sun is trying to rise,” Irsay writes on Twitter. Despite the enormous importance of the coming press conference, the sun rises without incident. Just think: everything might have turned out differently if the in-flight movie had been ”The Notebook.”

MARCH 7, NOON Irsay announces the decision to release Peyton Manning in a tearful news conference that resembles a cross between a best man’s toast and a divorcing couple’s heart-to-heart with their children. It is the most heartbreaking daytime television moment since the last episode of ”One Life to Live.”

MARCH 7, AFTERNOON First Manning-to-Broncos rumor begins circulation. The customary mourning period after a romantic breakup in a freshman dormitory is one week. In the N.F.L., it is apparently four hours.

MARCH 7, 5:22 P.M. A Miami NBC affiliate reports that Manning landed at Opa-Locka Executive Airport and left in a van. Little do the Dolphins realize that they will be upstaged in the days to come, not just by several other teams, but by several other vans.

MARCH 8, MORNING ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Manning prefers A.F.C. teams to N.F.C. teams. The Redskins and the Cardinals refuse to take the polite hint.

MARCH 9, 7:01 A.M. As reported by Mike Sando of ESPN, a plane frequently used by Broncos executives arrives in Miami from Stillwater, Okla., spends precisely 72 minutes on the ground, then returns to Stillwater, where John Elway and others are watching prospects work out. Not coincidently, Manning routinely listens to the 72-minute Bob Dylan classic ”Blonde on Blonde” in its entirety before flying across country.

MARCH 9, EVENING A blockbuster trade with the Rams for the draft pick that will be Robert Griffin III takes the Redskins out of the Manning sweepstakes. And the 2013 draft. And the 2014 draft. And contention for the foreseeable future.

MARCH 9, LATER THAT EVENING The Jets give up on Manning and extend Mark Sanchez’s contract, making the Redskins’ decision to mortgage their future for one untested player the wisest decision of the night.

MARCH 10, MORNING Tim Tebow, raising money for wounded veterans in Tampa, Fla., cancels a news conference so his charitable efforts are not upstaged by Manning-to-Broncos questions. This is the lone example of perspective and restraint in this entire timeline.

MARCH 11, EVENING Manning completes a six-and-a-half-hour visit with the Cardinals. Despite the relative brevity of the meeting and the fact that Manning never takes a real snap, he leaves Arizona as the fourth-most successful quarterback in franchise history.

MARCH 12, EVENING The Dolphins stop giving themselves pep talks in the men’s room mirror and finally make their move. Manning spends six hours meeting with Dolphins Coach Joe Philbin and his staff. Despite owning a home in Miami and spending much of the past week there, Manning meets with Philbin in Indianapolis. As positive indicators go, this is as encouraging as a weekday date at a coffee shop at noontime, yet the Dolphins press on.

MARCH 14 The Titans emerge as major players in the Manning derby with an all-day conference in Tennessee. The team’s owner, Bud Adams, offers a ”lifetime” contract. A ”cryogenic” extension turns out to violate the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

MARCH 15, AFTERNOON The Tennessee Legislature approves a resolution urging Manning to come back to the state where he was a collegiate star. An amendment to the resolution tells Steve Spurrier that he can stay the heck out.

MARCH 16, 1:30 P.M. John Elway and John Fox leave the Raleigh-Durham Airport in a white van and drive to Duke University for private workouts with Manning. News helicopters follow the van, and the entire journey is broadcast live on N.F.L. Network. Parallels to the O. J. Simpson chase are too obvious to point out. Elway and Fox keep the van after the journey, realizing that if they alienate Tebow while failing to sign Manning, they may have to start their own drywall business.

MARCH 16, 4 P.M. The Cardinals give up on Manning by paying their incumbent quarterback Kevin Kolb a $7 million roster bonus. The Redskins trade keeps looking better and better.

MARCH 17, MORNING Steve Young reveals on SportsCenter that Manning held a secret midweek workout with 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh. Alex Smith, the free-agent quarterback who led San Francisco to the N.F.C. championship game last season, is so angered and disillusioned by his team’s courtship of Manning that he does the unthinkable: he schedules a visit with the Dolphins.

MARCH 18, AFTERNOON Seahawks sign quarterback Matt Flynn, ending speculation that Seattle might do something interesting.

MARCH 19, NOON Numerous reports confirm that Manning plans to sign with the Broncos. Exactly 11 seconds elapse before football news media begin speculating where Tebow will land. The Dolphins are the front-runners, but give them time.

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.

PHOTOS: From left, the Colts’ Jim Irsay, who let Manning go; the Titans’ Bud Adams, who offered a ”lifetime” contract; Robert Griffin III, who is likely to be drafted by the Redskins; Mark Sanchez, who is staying with the Jets; and 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh, who held a workout with Manning. (PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRENT SMITH/REUTERS; WADE PAYNE/ASSOCIATED PRESS; DAVE MARTIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS; BARTON SILVERMAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES; LEON HALIP/GETTY IMAGES)

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