Harrison Smith might have been the least disappointed 8-year-old in Knoxville, Tennessee.
December 13, 1997: a night people in the safety's hometown were "in shambles."
"I remember watching the Heisman ceremony when [cornerback Charles] Woodson won it," Smith recalled. "For whatever reason, I was always a fan of defense and defensive backs, so I thought it was cool when Woodson won it. Everyone was in shambles when Peyton [Manning] lost it, and they're still pretty upset about it."
There's the game, and then games within it: personnel groupings, alignments, showing one thing and doing another, or following through.
As the 18th anniversary approaches, Smith is preparing to take the same field as Denver's No. 18 for the first time, although there might be some degree of familiarity from watching games as a fan and films as a student.
"I've obviously seen him play a lot, especially with growing up in Knoxville, but I've also watched him on film," Smith said. "I just try to see what they're doing. He obviously knows how to get them in the best play to defeat what we're doing on defense, making his checks and stuff with the o-line. That's one thing we've got to be aware of. He's obviously been doing this for a long time and is going to be a Hall of Famer. As a defensive back, you always want to play against the best."
Asked how big Manning still is in his hometown, Smith said "the biggest."
"He turned the town into Colts fanatics," Smith said. "You've got kids named Peyton everywhere."
A chess match at the line of scrimmage between Manning and the defense of Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards. Smith is an important chess piece because of his versatility. He's the only player since 2012, when he entered the league, to record 10 interceptions and 4.0 sacks.
Smith also is leading the Vikings with 28 tackles (coaches' tally), including a **one-armed stop** for a loss against San Diego.
Manning said Smith is "part of the entire excellent group" of players, "but seems to be the guy that's kind of the quarterback of the defense, kind of gets them lined up so they give him a lot of responsibility."
"He's a big guy, great size, has got really great cover skills," Manning added. "It's why they're not afraid to put him out there and let him cover by himself."
Zimmer likes to show quarterbacks multiple looks before the snap, but said Wednesday there might not be much left that Manning hasn't seen.
"He's extremely accurate, he gets the ball out very quick and he sees an awful lot of things," Zimmer said. "There's probably not a blitz that we can devise or that he has not seen. There's probably not a coverage that we've run that he has not seen, and I'm sure that he'll go back and he'll look at tapes of when we played him before just like I've gone back and looked at his tapes."
Zimmer also described a quarterback prepared to capitalize if a defense does make a mistake.
"If you make a mistake, he's going to find it," Zimmer said. "That's one of the big things. Sometimes you make a mistake in some other ball games and you get away with it because the quarterback didn't see it or miss. He's not going to miss any. We're going to have to be on point with everything we do."
Everson Griffen, who leads the Vikings with 3.0 sacks, four tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hurries (coaches' tally) said "our biggest thing is to be detail-oriented" during this week's preparations.
"He's just a master when it comes to getting teams to jump offsides, get you out of balance, get you out of gaps," Griffen said.
Rhodes returns to practice
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes returned to practice and fully participated after suffering a head/neck injury against the Chargers that sidelined him for the second half. Zimmer said before practice that Rhodes had been cleared to return to action by passing the NFL protocol for players with a concussion.
"Everything was just happening fast," Rhodes recalled. "I heard (Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman) talking to me, and that was it."
Rhodes said he didn't review the play on which he was injured and has turned his attention to the Broncos.
The life of an offensive lineman can be one of relative anonymity if things are going well. They have in the past two games for Minnesota's front five, and analytics site Pro Football Focus noted the play of Matt Kalil this year, compared to 2014:
Kalil became a lightning rod at times last season, with bolt throwers possibly not evaluating all factors that occurred in the season. He opened this year healthy and has worked with Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, Mike Harris and T.J. Clemmings to allow one sack combined in the past two games.
The Vikings also have repeatedly won at the line of scrimmage the past two games on run plays and rank second this season in yards per carry (4.81).
Extra two percent
Mike Wallace estimated the Vikings had run about 25 percent of the playbook before the San Diego game. Asked how much the offense added this week, he said, "We probably put two more percent in, so we're at about 27 percent and still have 73 more percent. We didn't do too many things last week. We did a good job of running the ball though."
Adrian Peterson has moved to the top of the rushing leaders with back-to-back games with more than 100 yards rushing. Eventual focus by defenses on Peterson may lead to gains in the passing game, but Wallace said the Vikings like the way Peterson is running.
"When you have a guy like that and he's playing the way he's playing, people will come up," Wallace said. "We still have a lot of things in the fold, but when you have a guy that's running the way he's running, keep running it."
In addition to Rhodes, Audie Cole (ankle) was limited. Justin Trattou (foot), Charles Johnson (ribs), Jarius Wright (hand), Andrew Sendejo (knee) did not participate.
For the Broncos, Manning (not injury related), tackle Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) and guard Louis Vasquez (knee) did not participate. Guard Evan Mathis (hamstring) was listed as limited. Defensive end Kenny Anunike (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (foot), running back Juwan Thompson (neck) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (ankle) fully participated.