Peyton Manning still remembers the throw he made to longtime friend Todd Helton.
It was during last summer's NFL lockout, months before he underwent spinal fusion surgery on his neck. In the indoor batting cage at Coors Field, Manning cut loose a throw to the Colorado Rockies first baseman he wouldn't want anyone else in the world to see.
"It was not good; he actually thought I was joking when I threw it to him," Manning said in an excellent profile by Judy Batista of The New York Times. "The ball nose-dived. He was like, 'That's funny.' I was like, 'You don't understand. I'm telling you.' "
"I did not want people seeing me," he said. "It becomes a private, sensitive deal."
Soon, the Indianapolis Colts would learn the extent of Manning's condition. In September, he underwent the surgery that ended his 2011 season and began his divorce from the team that drafted him in 1998.
The following summer, Manning was in a vastly different place, both physically and mentally. A turning point was a piece of game tape, a deep comeback route to Denver Broncos teammate Eric Decker. Manning captured the video with his cell phone and emailed the "pretty healthy throw" -- with a thank you note -- to several people, including former Colts general manager Bill Polian and former coach Jim Caldwell.
"It doesn't mean by any means that I'm back," Manning said of the throw. "I really defend against people saying, 'He's back.' I feel like I've got to right that wrong. I still have work to do. I'm not sure if I'll ever be, if I'll ever know the answer. It might be when I stop playing, I'll say, 'You know what, this is where I got to.' "
"I want to be the player that they're used to seeing. Is that possible? I'm going to work hard to be (the) best player I can be. You've got to fight carrying that burden."
Manning might not be the Manning of eight seasons ago, but don't expect him to falter, either. One of the great comeback seasons ever appears on tap in Denver.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.