I don’t have many heroes and most of the ones I do have I have never met, and probably never will. I always tell people that there is no man on this planet that I would rather be than myself. My confidence in my choices, my beliefs, my abilities, my philosophies, and my lifestyle is extremely high and being Robert W. Bailey Jr. is pretty cool. I have, however, tried to emulate those whom I admire, trying to incorporate qualities of theirs that I treasure into my own life. After my late grandmother, I would say that I have mirrored Peyton Manning more than any other human being.
All day at work yesterday I knew that Peyton would hold a press conference to announce his retirement at 1:00 and I kept looking at the clock as time grew near. I reached a stopping point and brought up the live stream of the press conference on my cell phone and watched intently, allthewhile understanding the magnitude of what I was watching and listening to: my favorite football player would NEVER play football again. It is truly hard for me to deal with in the short term. As I watched that press conference I was genuinely sad and I’m not saying that to get attention or to be emotional, but to express my respect and reverence for a man who doesn’t even know who I am, but has impacted my life forever.
I grew up as a Broncos fan, and have loved them for 20+ years. My teams ran into Peyton’s Colts in the playoffs a few times, losing both games by a combined score of 90-34. Watching him play the quarterback position was something that intrigued me like nothing else in sports. The way he analyzed defenses play-by-play under a 40 second ticking play clock as time ran constantly, play after play after play. It always seemed like someone was wide open. He would audible to a run play when no one expected it and it would be as if the defensive line didn’t exist as the running back ran up the middle. His teams scored often and in bunches and won double digit games almost every season.
When franchises find their “guy” and establish a “franchise quarterback,” that guy rarely hits the open market. Franchise quarterbacks often extend their contracts and remain with their teams for 10-15 years, retiring with the team that drafted them. Needless to say I never expected Peyton to become a free agent but due to health issues and the Colts holding the number one selection in the upcoming NFL draft, they let him go. I remember texting Jim after hearing Peyton’s name linked to our Denver Broncos and saying “No way dude, this can’t be possible, we might sign him.” Days later, we had signed Peyton Manning to a 5 year, 96 million dollar deal. My favorite player, the guy I had admired for years, was the starting quarterback for my favorite football team.
For the next four years, Peyton took my Broncos to a new level, a level that no other team in the history of the game has reached offensively. He set personal, all-time, and team scoring, passing yards, and passing touchdown records. He threw for 55 touchdown passes and threw for 5,477 yards in 2013, both single season records. The Broncos scored 606 points as a team, also a record. We reached the Super Bowl twice, losing Super Bowl 48 and winning Super Bowl 50 as an underdog. The “Peyton Years” will go down as some of my best football memories as a fan.
I’ll remember Peyton as being second to none in preparation, my favorite attribute of his and the one I try to copy the most. Peyton taught me that with proper research and preparing, you can put yourself in a better position to be successful. I have spent countless nights up late drawing up playbooks and calling my teammates and going over routes, schemes, match-ups, and situations. Peyton taught me to be humble and not parade my own accomplishments. He taught me to remain in the moment and not get too far ahead of myself. He taught me to take my job seriously, but also enjoy doing it. I learned to stand out by watching him in action. Finally, Peyton taught me to be a leader. Anyone in a group or on a team can be the loudest, the cockiest, the biggest, the strongest, but only some can lead. It takes more to be a leader. You need to be able to collect multiple personalities and egos and put them together while trying to be successful as a unit. On all of my sports teams I have tried to do just that for my team, sometimes we have conquered, sometimes we haven’t, but leading is a quality that remains always, and I’ll have it forever because of Peyton.
The last piece of Peyton Manning that will remain with me is the number 18. I have worn #18 since I was in high school no matter the team or sport. Dodgeball, baseball, softball, etc., the number 18 has always been on the back of my jersey. I own two Peyton Manning Denver Broncos jerseys and wore both of them for this past playoff run, knowing it could be the last time I wore his jersey. Wearing that number is representative of all that Peyton stands for and I’ll value it and his individual qualities for the rest of my life. I’ll value the touchdown passes, the audibles, the smiles, the press conferences, the analysis, yelling and high-fiving my girlfriend’s father when the Broncos scored a defensive touchdown in Super Bowl 50, the “Omaha”‘s, the praise from his teammates, debating his legacy with friends and others, and so much more. I want to thank Peyton for choosing to play for my favorite team and giving me four wonderful years as a fan.
Next season will feel awkward for me, but even more sad. For the first time in 18+ years, Peyton Manning will not be on an NFL team. Fathom that.