Quarterback sneak

LATE ON MARCH 11, Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe and his most famous pupil eased through the night in a black Cadillac Escalade. Peyton Manning's eyes were weary. Four days earlier he had been cut by the Colts, the only NFL team for which he'd ever played. Immediately afterward, he faced the national media with characteristic grace.

Between that hard day and this quiet night, he'd flown to Denver to visit the Broncos and to Phoenix to visit the Cardinals. He'd met with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, the former Broncos boss, who still has a home in Denver. He'd even squeezed in a trip to South Florida to see his wife and two kids.

Now, slumped in the passenger seat of Cutcliffe's SUV, the quarterback exhaled as the pine trees and strip malls of Durham, N.C., flashed by his window. For the first time in 96 hours he was in a safe place, where no one would ask about his next team or how his surgically repaired neck felt or whether he was concerned with Tim Tebow's emotional state. No helicopters or news vans were in hot pursuit. The people in the surrounding cars had no idea who was driving next to them. The coach and the QB just rode in silence.

"You going to feel like working out in the morning?" Cutcliffe finally asked.