In the early to mid-2000s, Peyton Manning and John Lynch often shared mai tais in Hawaii the week of the Pro Bowl.
The two would tell football stories, with Manning playing in Indianapolis for the Colts and Lynch playing in Tampa Bay for the Buccaneers and eventually playing in Denver for the Broncos. They formed a bond over those Pro Bowls and mai tais — a bond that has lasted to this day, as they enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame together as a part of the 2021 class.
"I got to know Peyton through competing against him and then really at Pro Bowls," Lynch said Sunday morning during a virtual press conference with Manning. "I think our wives would tell you that it was a little nauseating because we would sit there and talk football for hours and drink mai tais for hours, as we shared our love of the game and really just started to see that we had a lot of commonalities."
It's only right these two will be immortalized in Canton, Ohio, together. Both offered their services for four years in Denver, each being the last four seasons of their Hall of Fame careers. And while it was a shorter time frame than their first two stops — Lynch played 11 seasons in Tampa Bay, Manning played 14 in Indianapolis — they each contributed to the Broncos' long history of success.
Lynch, who was released by the Buccaneers in 2003-04, made the Pro Bowl each of his four seasons in Denver and helped the Broncos to the 2005 AFC Championship game.
"I dreamed of playing my whole career in Tampa but injuries made it such that we kind of agreed to move on. And I'll never forget Mike Shanahan saying that 'I think this is the perfect place for you,'" said Lynch, who played safety in Denver from 2004-07, totaling 304 tackles and three interceptions. "It was such a great place to live, such a first-class organization. Pat Bowlen, I think Mike Shanahan, Greek, the trainer who's been there — they did things right.
"And Mr. Bowlen was such a tremendous man, and he was all about winning, and he was all about facilitating anything that it took to win. He was an owner that was there all the time but wasn't doing people's jobs for them. He was just there to let you know he cared and wanted to do everything he could to win.
"It was four great years and I'm so thankful to the Broncos and everybody in Denver for making it such a wonderful place. We ended up staying there for 11 years and it will forever be a part of the Lynch family and our charitable efforts."
And Manning, coming off a neck injury in 2011, won his fifth MVP in 2013 and led the Broncos to their Super Bowl victory in 2015.
"Coming to Denver, it was an anxious period of time. Coming off an injury, learning new teammates, new coaches," said Manning, who played in Denver from 2012-15, totaling 17,112 passing yards and 140 touchdowns. "I was nervous. I did not know how it was going to play out. But Denver, the Broncos organization, John Elway John Fox, Mr. Bowlen — I remember having a couple of conversations with him that first year and even though his health was declining, everybody made me feel welcome. And that was really helpful in this kind of transition period to this second chapter of my football career.
"I just felt really lucky to play four wonderful years there and be a part of another championship team. ... Denver was the best place for me. And I'm really proud of my time there with the Denver Broncos."
Both are considered two of the greatest players in franchise history. And they couldn't be happier that they get to share this moment together.
"I'm so grateful that Peyton has become a tremendous friend and has always been a guy I rely on for advice when I'm making big decisions and I think he's done the same," said Lynch, now the 49ers GM. "So proud to go in — and there's Hall of Famers and then there's guys like Peyton that are some of the greatest players ever to play and so it's an honor to go in with him, for sure."
As the two wrapped up their virtual press conference Sunday morning, they joked about those mai tais they shared years ago.
They reflected on their historic careers and the dozens of stories they have together. Soon, they'll be immortalized. And maybe they'll share a couple mai tais in Canton come August for old time's sake.
"You still get to have those friendships and relationships and those don't go away when you stop playing football," Manning said. "So the fact that John and I still have a special friendship and the fact that he and I received this news the same year — I'm very honored by that, to be with him along with all other inductees this year."