Peyton Manning has come a long way since this time last year.
The Manning of today is an MVP favorite and quarterback of the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But the Manning of last January was a player at the crossroads, attempting to find out if multiple neck surgeries would allow him to play at a high level ever again.
During Saturday's edition of "NFL Gameday Morning," NFL Network aired exclusive footage of Manning's rehab work with David Cutcliffe, his former quarterbacks coach at Tennessee and the current head coach at Duke. The pair worked diligently at Duke's indoor practice facility for two-and-a-half months, bringing Manning's game back to life.
"I got to go back to being a college quarterback and he got to go back to being my coach," Manning said. "It was fun for both of us."
The grand finale of their work together was a meticulously planned a play-by-play simulation of the Indianapolis Colts' 2009 AFC Championship Game matchup against the New York Jets. They needed bodies to pull the simulation off, so Cutcliffe reached out to former Manning teammates Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, Brandon Stokely and Jeff Saturday, who all came to Durham. Former Duke players rounded out the rosters.
Manning passed his final test with flying colors, making every throw he made in that win over the Jets two years earlier. He was released by the Colts one week later, setting the stage for the greatest free agency chance in league history.
"I don't think I've ever won a game that I felt any better after what he accomplished in this ballgame that nobody watched," Cutcliffe said.
For all the coverage Manning's rehab and subsequent free agency garnered, it's pretty incredible no one knew several big-name teammates had helped in his rehab process. Beyond that, the successful time with Cutcliffe tells us Manning was likely far more confident about his comeback chances than anyone could've realized.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.