By TED LEWIS
Written for the LSWA
The story goes that 3-year old Peyton Manning was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he answered without hesitation, “A quarterback,” quickly adding, “like my daddy.”
Even Peyton acknowledges that he was too young to remember that happening.
And Archie Manning admits that there might have been a bit of family embellishment going on.
But no matter how much truth is involved, Peyton’s prediction certainly came true. He became not just a quarterback, but among the best of all time.
In one of the most storied careers in the history of the game, Peyton excelled first at Isidore Newman in his native New Orleans and then at the University of Tennessee before exiting the NFL three years ago with a stack of records, five Most Valuable Player awards and two Super Bowl championships.
It made him an immediate selection, as soon as he was eligible, to enter the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Manning and 10 more state legends will be enshrined Saturday evening, June 8, at the Natchitoches Events Center, in front of a sold-out crowd and a Cox Sports Television live audience. For details on the June 6-8 Induction Celebration, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
His last Super Bowl capped one of the great comeback stories in sports history.
Overcoming a career-threatening neck injury which caused him to miss the 2011 season and resulted in his release from the Indianapolis Colts where he’d spent 14 seasons and was the MVP of Super Bowl XLI, Manning went to the Denver Broncos for four more years, leading his team to the Super Bowl in the last two, including a victory in SB 50 in his final game.
What a way go out on top!
But then again, no one could have been surprised.
“Peyton was a quarterback from the get-go,” Archie said. “And then, at every step along the way, Peyton made good choices and handled his business in the right way.
“I guess you’d have to say he had a good ending.”
Except it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.
He’s soon joining Archie, who toiled for 10 seasons with the Saints, as one of only three father-son combinations in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (When Eli’s turn comes in a few years, they’ll be the first family trio in the hall).
Then, the following week, Peyton will enter the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
He’s already in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (Indiana doesn’t have one, or he’d doubtless be in it, too), plus others such as the College Football Hall of Fame.
And a couple of years from now, Canton will be calling and his bust will be placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I don’t think much about that sort of thing,” Peyton said. “I try to live in the moment, and be excited about what’s happening this summer.
“Tennessee is obviously where I played college football and I’ll always feel a real connection there. But you’re only born in one state, and for me, that’s Louisiana. I can’t tell you how humbled and honored I am.”
And although his playing career may be over, Peyton’s “second life,” remains in high gear.
Peyton’s enduring popularity comes in large part from the “lovable doofus” character he projects in numerous commercials and other endeavors, many involving his and wife Ashley’s charity, the PeyBack Foundation.
That’s a marked contrast to preparation-obsessed player (nicknamed “The Computer,” at Tennessee) whose work ethic set a new standard for quarterbacks. That ranks as his most-enduring legacy to the sport, especially since it the central message he preaches to young quarterbacks at the annual Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux.
The goofball character is actually more of the persona of Cooper Manning, Peyton’s older brother by two years whose own football career was cut short by a congenital spinal condition at the onset of his freshman season as a wide receiver at Ole Miss, where Archie had a legendary career and which would later become Eli’s alma mater.
In fact, Peyton likely would have been a Rebel as well to keep the “Coop and Peyt Show” going.
“I was always a pretty serious kid,” Peyton said. “So Cooper and I made a deal that he would help me loosen up and I would maybe help him become a little more serious from time to time.”
Indeed that mutual assistance has remained so strong that Cooper, who has become a highly-successful real estate investor, continues to offer direction to Peyton on commercial shoots.
“I’d like to think I had lot to with making Peyton a comedian,” Cooper said. “He knew early on that a little self-depreciation goes a long way in the locker room.
“And being Peyton, he puts himself into it wholeheartedly. It’s done pretty well for him.”
Beyond that, one can give Cooper a large measure of the credit for Peyton’s competitive spirit.
“We were the perfect age gap for us to push each other,” Cooper said. “We used to go at it pretty hard sometimes.
“I think it made Peyton more driven to succeed and had a lot to with him working his tail off, because he certainly did.”
The brothers may have been ultra-competitive when they were youngsters, but they did have one special year together.
That was in 1991 when Cooper was a senior at Newman and Peyton, then a sophomore, was the starting quarterback.
“Chips off the Block,” was the headline on a newspaper preview section featuring Cooper and Peyton along with Archie on the cover.
Cooper would catch 76 passes for 1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns that season and earn All-State honors for a team which reached the state semifinals.
And Peyton would mark himself as a prospect to be watched in an era when little attention was paid to recruits until they were seniors.
“We’d developed all of these secret hand signals and head nods to communicate at the line of scrimmage,” Peyton said. “It was maybe the most fun season I ever had, and one I’ll always remember.”
Not that it was easy being Archie Manning’s son who also happened to be a quarterback.
The number of father-son quarterback combinations who have both reached the NFL is a small one. Archie and Peyton are by far the most accomplished.
It was never a career path Archie had pushed him towards. He’d actually kept Peyton out of organized football until the seventh grade.
But perhaps it was also inevitable.
“Peyton always was an inquisitive kid,” Archie said. “He was always asking a lot of questions about quarterback stuff.
“Cooper had already gotten a lot of attention because of me, but he moved to wide receiver because he wanted to play right away when he was a sophomore and he’d always had pretty good hands.
“Peyton never played anything else but quarterback and never wanted to.”
Although his immobility, especially in the last part of his career, may have created the impression that Peyton was never a great athlete, he played both basketball and baseball at Newman along with football.
But it was that determination to outwork everyone which put him on a higher plane.
“Football is a team game, but when you’re the quarterback and your teammates and coaches are counting on you so much, above all else, you want to be prepared to do your job,” Peyton said. “I loved to play the game, of course, but I always looked forward to the preparation part, too, because if there was some kind of edge I could get on the competition, I wanted to find it.
“There are a lot of talented players who don’t work hard and some who do work hard but maybe don’t have the physical ability. But if you can combine the two and have a passion for the game, well, then you have a chance to be really good.”
Peyton’s combination of determination and passion was such that he succeeded at every level.
It was particularly needed during the season he missed and the Colts released him, an action Archie calls “heartbreaking,” considering how Peyton and teammates like 2018 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison had changed the culture of football in Indianapolis.
After four surgeries, Peyton could barely throw a football 10 yards. And after his release, the former top recruit in the country and the No. 1 pick in the draft was reduced to going around trying to find a team to take a chance on him until he decided to visit Durham, N.C. (where his passing mentor David Cutcliffe, his college offensive coordinator, is Duke’s head coach) and let teams come to him instead
“It was first time I’d been hurt, which was bad enough,” Peyton said. “And then I had to learn how to be an effective quarterback again, even though it meant adjusting my game.
“To be able to come back with a new team and be part of an organization that won another championship was very special.”
“There were times when things didn’t look good and Peyton would get discouraged,” he said. “But I don’t think he ever came close to giving up and he wouldn’t have until it was clear he was out of options.”
Fortunately, he never was. And we and football were rewarded with a storybook finish.
Although Peyton can’t imagine what his life would have been without football, Cooper is convinced that his younger brother would have been “massively successful,” in any walk of life.
Also fortunately for football, and for us, Peyton chose the path he did.
Even if he hadn’t really decided that when he was 3.