In a heartfelt and emotional farewell Monday morning, one of sport's most popular figures, Peyton Manning, announced his retirement after playing for 18 years in the NFL. As I listened to Manning's press conference it occurred to me how many takeaways there are for all of us from his career and the way he approached his job.
As an NFL sideline reporter I got to watch Manning hone his craft. Just like he displayed during his final press conference, he always had an amazing ability to be in control of his message, but still show humility and humor. As an athlete, he was in high demand, so he turned down interview requests often, but always kindly. The first Super Bowl I ever went to as a reporter was also his first, Super bowl XLI. It's kind of weird to think of an NFL now without Peyton Manning. These are a few things, as a reporter, I'll miss most about him.
1. His Clever and Kind Use of Sarcasm
I tried to corner him a number of years ago, asking him in a post-game interview exactly what he had yelled at his wide receiver Blair White when White dropped a ball in the end zone against the Titans. I had watched a heated exchange between the two on the sideline. Instead of voicing frustration I think he felt by my question, in a nice and joking way, he called me out for calling him out by telling me I could repeat what he had said to his wide receiver, which we both knew couldn't be said on TV. He had a way of never making it feel personal.
2. His Desire to Deflect Attention, but Still Give Reporters Something to Write About
I remember a post-practice press conference in Denver in 2014. Manning was approaching a huge milestone, throwing his 500th touchdown pass, and had been asked about it for weeks. This time he used the relentless questions as an opportunity to take a trip down memory lane, remembering and listing some of the 40-plus players who he connected with in the end zone over the years.
3. His Passion for His Trade and His Willingness to Share It With Others
In 2012 before a game against the Raiders, our NFL network Thursday Night production crew sat down with him and couldn't get enough. I remember when Manning walked out of the room, Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock and I all turned to each other and agreed we would have loved another 30 minutes. We had enjoyed the conversation that much. I always learned something new when I spoke to Peyton. Like the time he taught me how he would use the sounds fans made to tell if the pass rush was coming from his blind side. He was so detailed he had learned to listen for the gasp the crowd would make in anticipation of a sack.
4. His Sheer Will
His determination to come back from neck surgery was a lesson for all in overcoming adversity. He had considered allowing NFL films to document his comeback and in some ways regretted turning Steve Sabol down. He did document it himself though and recorded some of his first post-surgery throws. I was in awe listening to stories about re-teaching his arm how to work. To do that he had said, "I did things in the mirror." At first he had proprioception problems, which meant he couldn't really tell how far his arm was from his head as it whizzed by his ear. It sounded like being really drunk and trying to touch your nose with your finger with your eyes closed. Your mind thinks you're on target, but your hand isn't listening. To think he went from that, to playing in Super Bowl XVIII and winning Super Bowl 50 is kind of surreal.
5. His Preparedness
What will stick with me most though about Peyton was what he knew best and articulated about himself in his Goodbye: other players may have had more talent, but nobody was more prepared than Peyton. Nothing exemplified this more than a picture John Fox had shared with me and my collegues before it went viral in one of our production meetings in Denver. It was Manning sitting in the cold tub, with his helmet on, holding an iPad. He was nursing an ankle injury and instead of practicing he was getting treatment. In typical Peyton fashion, he didn't want to miss a thing. So he sat soaking his ankle, listening to the plays being called in through his helmet and followed the action on his tablet. His thirst for information was enormous and in my opinion, that's what made him great.
Here are 5 simple quotes from Peyton Manning's press conference that represent what the quarterback stood for. All 5 can be applied by anyone to business, parenting, sports and even life.
- Preparation: "There were other players that were more talented, but there was nobody that could out-prepare me."
- Appreciation: "When someone thoroughly exhausts an experience they can't help but revere it. I revere football. I love the game."
- Perseverance: "Football has taught me not to be led by obstructions and setbacks but instead to be led by dreams."
- Conviction: "There's a saying that goes, treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be and he will become what he should be."
- Humility: "I don't think you ever get too high up or too old, not to need encouragement from your teammates."