Chris Mortensen discussing Peyton Manning's move to the Broncos in 2012. Chris Mortensen discussing Peyton Manning’s move to the Broncos in 2012. (ESPN.)

The passing of famed NFL journalist Chris Mortensen at 72 Sunday has sparked a ton of tributes. One particularly notable one came from former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, relayed by Peter King in his final Football Morning In America column for NBC Sports.

There, Manning spoke about how he got to know Mortensen well through Mortensen’s regular trips to his Manning Passing Academy camps. That even saw Mortensen fill in as a coach on a Sunday once after other coaches had left the camp, with Manning saying “He saw a need, and he just stepped in to help.”

And that was part of what led to Mortensen breaking two major stories around Manning. Those would be his free agent move to the Denver Broncos in 2012 (which Mortensen broke alongside ESPN colleague Adam Schefter; a still from Mortensen’s on-camera analysis of that is seen at top) and his retirement from the NFL in 2016.

But the most remarkable thing Manning told King might be about his discussion with Mortensen about breaking the news of his retirement. That came while Mortensen was in hospital in Houston for cancer treatment:

“Over the years,” Manning said, “I had great respect for the media. I respected the job the media people in Indianapolis and in Denver had. But the hardest things about being a free agent is you’ve got no team. I remember through the process of picking Denver [in 2012], I talked a lot to Mort and to [ESPN partner] Adam Schefter because they knew so much about every team needing a quarterback that year. They helped me with guidance. I’d known Chris for so long because he came to the Manning Passing Academy almost from the first year we established it, and we built such a good relationship over the years.

“So when I was going to retire, I called Mort. I said, ‘Hey, I wanted to let you know I’m going to retire. I’d like you to make the announcement, but if you can’t do it because of your health, I totally understand.’ I mean, we all knew he was being treated then. But he said, ‘I’ll do it. Let me write this up really quick.’

“That was Mort. Dedicated to his craft, always.”

King also outlines there that after sharing that news on a Saturday, Manning asked Mortensen to hold it until Sunday morning so he could have “one last night as an NFL quarterback, to go out to dinner with family and friends.” Mortensen agreed, and pre-wrote a story for ESPN, and held off on running it early despite concerns from NFL on ESPN executive Seth Markman that they might get scooped, saying “It’s not even a discussion. I gave my word.” That helps illustrate why even the most prominent players like Manning had so much trust in and respect for Mortensen, and that decision worked out just fine for Mortensen and the network, with them indeed breaking the news Sunday.

There’s something fitting about Manning’s tribute to Mortensen coming in King’s final weekly Monday morning column. King had been writing that column for 27 years, as “Monday Morning Quarterback” from 1996-2018 at Sports Illustrated and then as “Football Morning In America” at NBC since then, and he and Mortensen were two of the largest figures on the national NFL seen for much of that time.

And King also reveals in that column that Mortensen called him last week after King announced the column would soon end. He writes that Mortensen “said some very nice things about my impact on the business. His impact will never be forgotten, but not just on our business. I’ll remember his grace and his ethos in dealing with a life-altering disease just as much.” King also paid tribute to Mortensen on Twitter:

There have been a ton of tributes to Mortensen, from both ESPN colleagues and others in the media. But the stories here from Manning are excellent, and they help indicate part of what made Mortensen stand out in his field. And it’s also notable to see King’s final column, which is otherwise a good read for the notes he publishes from readers around the world about what his column meant to them, once more relay some exclusive and newsworthy comments from a NFL figure.

[NBC Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.