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Brandon Stokley: Peyton Manning is the master of improvisation

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning passes the

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning passes the ball against the New England Patriots during the second half of their NFL AFC Championship playoffs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado, USA, 24 January 2016. Credit: EPA / LARRY W. SMITH

SAN FRANCISCO — When Brandon Stokley thinks about Peyton Manning, he doesn’t think about the Super Bowl or the records of the MVPs. The former NFL wide receiver who was a teammate of Manning’s for five years in Indianapolis and one season in Denver thinks about the huddle in a game against the Chargers on Dec. 26, 2004.

The play that resulted from that huddle did in fact lead to a record — it was Manning’s 49th touchdown pass of the season, which at the time set the single-season mark that has since been eclipsed — and the TD pass to Stokley with 56 seconds left in the game gave the Colts the win. But it was the genesis of the score that remains Stokley’s favorite Manning memory.

“He made up the play as we went,” Stokley told Newsday on Radio Row at the Super Bowl on Wednesday. “It wasn’t anything that we practiced, it was something that he saw during the game and we kind of made it up in the huddle. He said, ‘I’m gonna give you this signal, but I want you to run this route.’ It was a route we might have practiced once or twice the whole year. We didn’t even have a signal for it or anything. And it worked out perfectly. That just goes to show you how creative he is, even during the game.”

Stokley is retired, but he’ll be watching and rooting for his quarterback in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday. And he’s not shocked that Manning, 39, is still performing at a championship level.

“The way he works, what he puts into it every week and every offseason, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Stokley said.

Peyton isn’t the only Manning that Stokley has a connection with. He was signed by the Giants in 2011 when they were thin at wide receiver, particularly in the slot. He played in two games, caught one pass from Eli Manning, and was hurt. That meant the Giants had to turn to an unproven young receiver in the important role in the offense.

“If it wasn’t for me, no one would have ever heard of Victor Cruz,” Stokley said with a smile.

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