Peyton: 'I was pretty close' to signing with Titans in '12

With two Super Bowl appearances, a Lombardi Trophy and a slew of NFL records in his four years with the Broncos, Peyton Manning now ranks with Reggie White and Drew Brees as the best free-agent signings in pro football history.

Manning not only grew his own legend in Denver, but also established the Broncos as a perennial AFC superpower and helped John Elway transition from one of the most decorated players in history to an esteemed front-office executive.

Titans fans can't be blamed for wondering if their own franchise would have been elevated in similar fashion had Manning opted to return to Tennessee in 2012.

When Manning was deciding between Denver, Nashville and San Francisco, late Titans owner Bud Adams offered the former University of Tennessee a lifetime contract to finish his career in the Volunteer state.

How tempted was Manning to choose Adams' offer over Elway's?

"I was pretty close," Manning told Tennessean sports editor Dave Ammenheuser at the Middle Tennessee Sports Awards Thursday night.

Adams certainly thought he had a realistic chance to land his Great White Whale.

"I was hoping we would win out," Adams said at the time. "I thought we'd be ahead of Denver. I thought he'd want to stay in Tennessee."

Although Manning proved to be a rising tide that lifts all boats throughout his sterling 18-year career, it's doubtful that he would have matched his Denver success had he chosen a Tennessee squad featuring a fading Chris Johnson and an underwhelming wide receiver corps of Nate Washington, Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright.

That won't stop Titans fans from wondering "what if."

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