JERSEY CITY, N.J. — They sat on the tarmac just hoping for the chance at a meeting.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider waited in the private plane in Denver, wondering if Peyton Manning would accept a request to meet with the brain trust of the Seattle Seahawks to see if that could be a potential landing spot for the free agent quarterback.
This was March of 2012, before Manning decided Denver would become his permanent address and before Russell Wilson took up residency in Seattle.
And as Carroll recalled on Wednesday, the entire process was “brief.”
“We tried to get involved with that to see if there was a next stage to the process and there wasn’t,” Carroll said.
The fact the paths of Manning and the Seahawks intersect in Sunday’s Super Bowl is no coincidence. The decision to bring Manning to Denver was the catalyst for the Broncos becoming an offensive marvel that set records on its way to an AFC championship. And his decision not to seriously consider Seattle as a landing point also was hugely important in the Seahawks finding the pieces both in free agency and the draft to build a team that was the class of the NFC.
Manning recalled Wednesday how he wanted privacy in the process of figuring out his next team after being released by Indianapolis.
“I remember it wasn’t very private. It was quite a public spectacle,” Manning said. “I could have done without that.”
Manning eventually signed with Denver in late March. The process leading to his decision included a number of other franchises, including an early morning phone call that awoke Carroll. Manning had heard Seattle was interested and thus the process started.
Seattle was in the market for quarterbacks at that point. They had gone through the trio of Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson without satisfaction during Carroll’s first two seasons and now stood the chance to possibly make a pitch to Manning.
They had yet to draft Wilson — who Carroll said he now would have selected much higher than the third round — so it made sense for the Seahawks to try and get involved.
“We talked about the basics of what it might mean for him coming to us and the process was underway,” Carroll said. “It was very early and he had said he didn’t know what he was going to do, where he was going to visit and what was going to come up and he wanted to gage what our interest was.”
Seattle’s limited pursuit ended in Denver. Manning never took the meeting with Schneider and Carroll. Manning went on to have conversations with the 49ers, Cardinals, Dolphins and Titans before making the choice to join the Broncos.
Seattle went on to sign Matt Flynn as a free agent from Green Bay two days before Manning’s deal was finalized with the Broncos. The Seahawks drafted Wilson in the third round a month later and kept around Jackson, the starter for most of 2011, to create a three-way QB competition Wilson eventually won during training camp.
How the Seahawks are currently constructed would have drastically changed had the talks with Manning progressed beyond just those initial conversations. A number of roster moves the Seahawks have made — signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as free agents, trading for Percy Harvin as examples — might not have happened if Manning had opted for Seattle. Seattle would have been limited with its salary cap space because of the money Manning would have commanded.
Some of those moves are at the root of why Seattle is in the Super Bowl and are the ones Schneider said he thinks about when recollecting about their efforts with Manning.
“I just think that we would have continued to do things the way we do it all the time,” Schneider said last week. “I know that we wouldn’t have been able to afford several players but we would have competed in other areas to compensate for it in where we were deficient in our roster. It’s a daily process.”