It was, in all probability, the final athletic triumph of the greatest player he — or just about anybody else, for that matter — has ever coached.
And Tony Reginelli almost missed it.
At halftime of Super Bowl 50, Reginelli, Peyton Manning’s coach at Newman, and his wife, Joan, came home from their son Darrell’s house next door because the medication from the back surgery he’d had the week before was kicking in.
Let him tell it from here:
“I lay down in the bedroom floor because that was only way I could get comfortable. Then I fell asleep, and when I woke up, there was only a few minutes left.
“I stayed up until about 1 after that. But when you’re watching a game that means so much to a guy you’ve coached, it’s kind of embarrassing. If I’d missed the end, I would have kicked myself.”
Don’t sweat it, coach.
When you’ve now had three back surgeries, three heart attacks, two knee replacement surgeries and the removal of an orange-sized growth on your liver you should feel fortunate just be around to turn 82 on Thursday.
And Peyton — who along with brothers Cooper and Eli have spearheaded a fund-raising drive for athletic improvements at Newman that will culminate with the entrance to the football field being named “Reginelli Way” on Feb. 27 — would certainly have been understanding, even if Reginelli hadn’t seen the end of Denver’s 24-10 victory and beyond.
Just as long as he finally did wake up.
Reginelli was the first of Peyton’s six high school, college and NFL coaches he called after the Broncos’ AFC championship game victory against New England to thank them for what they’d meant to him, as strong an indication as any that no matter what happened in the Super Bowl, this was going to be it.
It was Reginelli who last week received from Manning a leather Super Bowl jacket (“The hanger alone must have cost $80”) along with a handwritten note saying, “You’re the best, Coach. Love, Peyton.”
And it was also Reginelli of whom Manning said, “He is truly one of a kind and a special man.”
He’s also one with an understanding of the decision Peyton is facing.
Reginelli coached at Newman from 1961-93, Peyton’s senior season. But he then retired at age 60 because his back and knee problems rendered him, in his mind, unable to give the job the full attention he felt it required.
So while Reginelli acknowledges that winning a second Super Bowl probably let Peyton check off the biggest remaining box on his career bucket list, he’s not certain that Manning is fully ready to let it go.
“Peyton’s going to talk to his family and doctors and then he’s going to make what he feels is the right decision,” Reginelli said. “I know how much he loves playing, and that’s going to be make it hard for him to stop.
“But it could be that this summer he starts working out and somebody gives him a call, he’s going to see how his body feels and how much energy he has. So I’d say it’s only about 70 percent that he’s done.”
That puts Reginelli in the distinct minority opinion among Peyton watchers, both those who have a close relationship with him and those who don’t.
But it comes from someone who witnessed and helped guide Peyton’s development early on, even if Reginelli did have to change from the veer to what became a highly sophisticated passing offense.
“Peyton always wanted to be a quarterback like Archie,” Reginelli said. “And he worked in every way you can imagine to become that.
“Always the first one to practice, always the last one to leave, but also very respectful of his coaches and everyone else on the staff down to the managers.”
Peyton, Reginelli said, was so anxious to do anything to develop his skills that in the spring of his senior year he used a free period in the afternoon to go to the Saints camp to do 7-on-7 drills with the players there.
That level of dedication is why, more than two decades later, Reginelli knows how difficult it is for Peyton to face the end.
But at least it’s on the highest of notes.
Peyton’s return this season when there were so many doubts about his physical ability, Reginelli said, worried him as it did many others.
And when Peyton first struggled and then missed six games with a torn plantar fascia, he was even more worried that that it would end on such a down note, at least for this season, and that Peyton would push himself to play again even when he probably shouldn’t.
But once Denver overcame Pittsburgh and then the Steelers in the first two playoff games, Reginelli was confident that the underdog Broncos were going to beat Carolina on Sunday.
“Denver’s defense was just too good,” Reginelli said. “Peyton wasn’t going to have to have a big game to beat them which was good.
“After that first play when they hit Newton and he fumbled, I knew was right.”
Maybe that’s why Reginelli could relax enough to nearly sleep through the second half.
But he’s sure glad he didn’t.