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The request was put in early.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, ever the stickler for game preparation, developed a plan for his return shortly after suffering a foot injury that would ultimately sideline him for six games this season.

Behind the scenes, Manning would slowly work his way back onto the field. And he would do so with a receiver he handpicked.

Jordan Taylor, a lanky 6-foot-5 practice-squad player who signed with the Broncos as an undrafted rookie from Rice last May, was his guy.

"He came to me a week and a half, two weeks after he was injured, when he was able to get back out there," Taylor recalled. "The first game he was back, against San Diego, he was like, 'Hey, I want to warm up with you before the game.' It's continued since then."

During the Broncos' regular-season finale, at home against San Diego, Manning returned in the second half to steady an offense in a comeback victory.

The Broncos, with Manning leading the offense, are back in the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. But a routine that started late in the season as part of Manning's recovery has since blossomed into a regular pregame sight.

"He'll always make sure in our meetings the night before that I'm aware we're going to be out there usually about two hours before the game, get a little work in," Taylor said. "We pretty much do the same thing every Sunday before the game. It's kind of a spinoff of the work we were doing when he was injured. I guess he just wanted to keep that going."


Shortly before kickoffs, Manning, wearing his usual all-navy Broncos sweat suit, saunters onto the field with assistant equipment manager Mike Harrington and Taylor. Harrington plays the role of center, and Taylor takes over for Manning's regular receivers, running routes and fielding pass after pass, first on the right side of the field, then on the left.

And in the days after, the routine continues, a little over an hour before the start of practices. Harrington snaps. Taylor runs. Manning throws.

Here's Jordan Taylor's custom suit that Peyton Manning got him. Pretty cool deal!

— Phil Milani (@philmilani) January 31, 2016

"I feel bad because I was running him into the ground and we hadn't even started practice yet," Manning said. "He was going out there and he plays receiver and free safety during practice, so we would go at about 9:30 and practice starts at 10:45. I have a bad habit of saying, 'Just one more, just one more.' One more can turn into about 10 more."

For Taylor, a player with no game experience in the NFL, the practice is invaluable.

For Manning, the preparation is as much religion as is it is necessity. So the week before the Super Bowl 50, Manning paid for a fitted suit, two shirts and a pair of ties for Taylor to wear in San Francisco. It was a thank-you to the kid who helped him return to the field.

"I don't think I could have gotten through that rehab and kind of gotten back had it not been for him," Manning said. "I'm very grateful for his help. He may have been one of the best-dressed players on the team coming out here."

Nicki Jhabvala: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @NickiJhabvala

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.