CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If the Carolina Panthers had their way, maybe Peyton Manning would be playing for them — not against them — in the Super Bowl.
When Manning was coming out for the 1998 draft, the Panthers approached Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian with a megadeal offer.
It included trading fourth-year quarterback Kerry Collins and multiple draft picks, including their first-round selection that year, for the right to take Manning with the No. 1 overall selection.
Carolina was hoping Polian, who had drafted Collins just three years before while working as the GM for the Panthers, would pull the trigger on the deal.
Problem was, Polian wouldn’t even consider the offer.
“Bill was dead set against it,” said Dom Capers, Carolina’s head coach at the time who was also given control of personnel decisions when Polian left the team after the 1997 season.
“He was set on keeping the pick. You never know on those kinds of things — but sometimes you have to try.”
Polian said he had his heart setting on drafting Manning.
“There wasn’t anything they could give us that was going to replace Peyton Manning,” Polian said.
Capers, now the defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers, said he was “blown away” after meeting Manning at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February 1998.
Manning walked into the interview with a yellow notepad, sat down and started asking Capers questions.
“He left the room and I sat there in amazement,” Capers said. “It was like he was interviewing me for an hour. He was incredibly professional, focused and you just knew right then he was going to be a player.”
Apparently, so did Polian.
The Colts at the time already had running back Marshall Faulk, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and offensive tackle Tarik Glenn on the roster and Polian felt all they needed was a quarterback.
He liked Manning over Collins, whom he selected with the fifth overall pick in 1995.
“We liked Kerry, but we didn’t feel like it was a fair return,” Polian said. “We felt Peyton had so much potential. Honestly, there was nothing anybody could have offered us that would have made us decide to move the pick.”
Said Capers: “Bill knew what he had with the No. 1 pick in Peyton. We tried. We talked with Bill, but Bill just wasn’t going to do it. He thought Peyton was going to be something special — and he proved him right.”
Manning is expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The five-time league MVP will be playing in his fourth Super Bowl when the Denver Broncos meet the Panthers on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
“He’s going to go down if not the greatest, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play this game,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said.
Said Capers: “If you took one of the top five offensive coordinators and put him under center that is what it would be like. He’s so cerebral.”
Not long after Polian selected Manning over Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 pick, the Colts and Panthers organizations headed in two different directions.
The Colts became a mainstay in the playoffs, reaching the postseason 11 of the next 13 seasons under Manning and won the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
The Panthers would go five seasons before even making the playoffs.
They selected defensive end Jason Peter with the 14th overall pick in 1998. But he retired after the 2001 season.
Collins, who had been accused of using a racial slur by a teammate in 1997, found more problems on and off the field.
He was cut by the Panthers midway through the 1998 season after Capers told reporters the quarterback walked into his office and told him he’d lost the desire to play.
A year later, Collins was arrested for DUI while a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Collins would get things straightened out though and play 17 seasons in the NFL, leading the New York Giants to an appearance in the Super Bowl.
As for Capers, he handed the job to Steve Beuerlein after Collins was released, but the Panthers finished 4-12 in 1998 and he was fired by owner Jerry Richardson.
Capers laughed when asked if the deal for Manning had gone through if his tenure in Carolina might have been longer.
“You never know,” Capers said. “That is one thing about this business — you just never know. Those kinds of decisions have tremendous impacts on an organization.”
As for Polian, he said with a laugh, “I think I made the right call.”