“He made it look so easy. Did you see that?”
“Yeah. We had Decker covered. Peyton just threads the needle.”
It was the second time I had the privilege of watching Peyton Manning play — and the second time I watched him dissect and expose the Giants defense. And if you’ve ever watched him, you probably thought the same thing: that it looks almost effortless to do what he does, whether it’s reading a defensive scheme and adjusting on the fly, or making people laugh in commercials.
Most people even think the leadership role came easy to Peyton. During a recent radio interview, NY Jets receiver Brandon Marshall said he believes it was much more difficult for Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton to adjust to being a leader, saying, “We didn’t all grow up having Archie Manning show us how to do it.”
In one respect, I agree with Marshall — Peyton did learn from one of the best. But to suggest he hasn’t done some serious studying would be downright ridiculous. And, as I’ve realized after reading the book, “Brady Vs Manning: The Untold Story of a Rivalry That Transformed the NFL,” to suggest that anything comes naturally to him is almost blasphemous.
Take, for example, his legendary stint hosting Saturday Night Live. Peyton absolutely nailed it, coming across as funny and approachable — the guy who embraces his inner dork and can laugh at himself. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched the infamous United Way sketch.
But to Peyton, it was hardly a matter of walking onto a stage and letting his comic genius takeover. In fact, he “attacked the script as if it was the playbook for a championship game,” said former SNL cast member Seth Meyers. “He was the only guy I’ve ever known to host the show to have a binder with tabs.” And when the writers initially pitched an idea of having Peyton impersonate Elvis, what did he do? Pour over tapes of the King live in concert, Meyers told Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio.
He prepared for being funny the way he prepares for everything. Throughout his career, he has developed a reputation for meticulously pouring over game tape — and not just from recent seasons. Joe Harrington, the sports technology coordinator at the University of Tennessee (Peyton’s alma mater), regularly receives requests from Manning for game film. In a NY Post article, he recalled one such conversation:
“In 1996 Tennessee played Ole Miss in Memphis. In the third quarter we ran a play called ‘flip right duo X motion fake roll 98 block pass special’ … I need you to find that play, I need you to digitize it, and I need you to send it to me.”
This conversation, by the way, took place in 2012 — yes, 2012. And it didn’t faze Harrington in the least, who called it “typical Peyton.” When the five-time NFL MVP became the starter at Tennessee, he asked for tapes of every practice; Hamilton purchased a VCR so that he could record the footage. And sure enough, every tape was watched.
“He has a little ‘Rain Man’ in him,” he said.
Or maybe a lot. When questioned as to why he repeatedly visited and dissected the footage of Super Bowl XLVIII — perhaps the toughest loss in his storied career — Peyton said:
“You need to watch it. Watch the bad plays. It’s not fun to watch bad plays, to sit there and say, ‘That’s a bad decision’ and ‘That’s a really bad decision’ and ‘Horrible read.’ … No matter how old you are, you need to go into that prepared to be constructively criticized and learn how to grow out of the mistakes every year.”
To me, those are the words of someone who is always striving to improve; someone who is unafraid to expose his mistakes and learn from them. Peyton Manning may have been born into football royalty, but trust me, he has earned the keys to the kingdom.