Manning His Post

Peyton Manning’s retirement will mark the end of an era.
Associated Press

I got my first speeding ticket just a few weeks after getting my driver’s license. I was doing 75 in a 50 when the blue lights caught me. As I rolled down my window, the blinding light of a TV camera illuminated the night and the officer asked me to step out of the car. Buford T. Justice and the crew from “COPS” must have been expecting a driver that was high on something good. And, truth is, I was.

He ordered me to the front of the car. “Where you been tonight, son?”

I was nervous. It was the first time I had been stopped by the police. I had to tell the truth. “We’ve just left the Newman football game, sir. Peyton Manning had a phenomenal game and we’re just jacked up about it.”

“You ain’t been drinkin’ or nothin’?”

“Oh, no sir. Just a football game tonight.”

With a groan of disgust from behind the lens, the light clicked off and a videographer and his boom microphone operator returned to the cruiser.

I got a ticket, but I also had a great story. It was the first of many I’d have following Manning’s career from prep to college to professional ball.

Three years later, in the fall of my sophomore year at Ole Miss, the Rebels faced off against Peyton’s Tennessee Volunteers in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Of his mom, dad, and two brothers, Peyton was the only Manning to not attend Ole Miss. They were all in attendance that cool, fall mid-South Thursday night for the game nationally televised by ESPN. It was the first time that Peyton faced the “family school.”

Probation limited the number of scholarship players on Ole Miss’ roster, and the No. 8 ranked Vols crushed the Rebs with an outstanding performance. I hate to see my team lose, but thought if they had to lose to anyone, at least it was Peyton.

Walking out of the stadium, I ran into Cooper Manning, who sat next to me in a math class the previous spring. He said he was headed to Tennessee’s locker room to meet up with his family and asked if I wanted to join him.

Of course I jumped at the opportunity. I got the chance to meet and talk with my childhood hero, former Rebel and Saint quarterback Archie, as well as Olivia and Eli as we waited for the players to come out of the locker room.

Soon enough, there was Peyton, hugging his mom, dad and brothers, and taking time to greet the throng of supporters hailing their hero. It was an amazing moment— to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what would become the “first family of football.” (Thanks to Silky Sullivan and his Divers my memory is a bit shaky, but I think I recall seeing the Mannings later that night on Beale Street. Work hard, play hard. Right?)

Years later, when my beloved Saints marched into their first Super Bowl, who else did they face but Manning’s Indianapolis Colts? I remember going into the two weeks leading up to the game with that similar feeling that if the underdog Saints couldn’t quite measure up, at least it was Peyton who would win it. As we know, I didn’t need to fret. I was proud for my Saints, but felt sorry Manning had to lose, too.

As the 2015 season winds down, it’s becoming apparent that this might be the last few weeks we’ll get to see Peyton Manning, now 39, as the field general we’ve known or the majority of his life. I hope he stays in football in some capacity. His knowledge of the game and competitive fire would make him a natural to lead players as a coach. But he may opt to follow in his father’s career footsteps once again. It would be fantastic to hear his perspective on NFL games, but even better, I’d love to hear his Southern drawl providing commentary on SEC games in coming years. That option would give him more time with his wife and two children. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a third Manning generation on the gridiron to root for soon enough. 

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.



Categories: The Magazine