INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning arrived in Indianapolis in the spring of 1998 as the No. 1 overall pick and next hotshot quarterback. And for 13 seasons, Manning validated his stance as one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time.
He won five MVP awards, led the Colts to the playoffs 11 times, had eight seasons with at least 12 victories, got to the Super Bowl twice and won it once with the Colts. And if not for Manning, the building where his statue will be unveiled Saturday afternoon — Lucas Oil Stadium — likely wouldn’t be here today.
Manning’s known for his prolific passing numbers, passion for winning and attention to detail. But there was also another side of the quarterback, one that not everybody may know about.
As his statue is unveiled and his No. 18 retired Sunday, ESPN asked some of those who know him best to share their favorite Peyton Manning stories and what the future Hall of Famer meant to them.
He was the ‘king of pranks’
Jeff Saturday, Manning’s teammate from 1999 to 2011: “It was my first year playing with the team and Jim Mora made us dress up for the trips. As an undrafted rookie free agent, I didn’t have a lot of money to buy clothes. I go to a suit place and get some pants and a jacket. I got it tailored and everything. I come on a Saturday, we had walk-through and then we were going to drive to the airport, but we would all go to lunch at Chili’s before the flight. I shower after practice, and I put my pants on and they are tight. I mean tight. They’re long and they’re tight. I’m in the locker room and asking the guys in the locker room if my pants look tight. They told me everything looks all right. I couldn’t go get them fixed because Jim Mora would leave you if you were late for the plane and it was my first time ever playing. I was scared of everything. [Offensive lineman] Adam Meadows goes down there and gets dressed and his pants were all short. I don’t think anything of it. I’m more worried about flying with these supertight pants. I’m thinking they’re going to rip. The guys are cracking jokes on me. We go to Chili’s. We’re sitting down and the guys are all laughing. Then it dawns on me, he switched the pants on me and Meadows. Peyton was going to let me roll on the plane wearing the snuggies. From then on, there was no trust. That started off Year 1 of me and Manning.”
Adam Vinatieri, Manning’s teammate from 2006 to ’11: He didn’t care who you were, Peyton would prank you if he could. We were at training camp one year and [former linebacker] Pat Angerer was here still. Peyton filled like a 50-gallon trash can with water and propped it up against his door and knocked on his door. Then a tidal wave of water went crashing into his room. He was the king of pranks. There were other ones that we can’t discuss that aren’t exactly suitable for everybody’s ears.”
Tony Dungy, Colts coach from 2002 to ’08: “We were riding to the press conference Monday morning after winning the Super Bowl [in 2006]. We’re in the car and I had been alerted that the president, George W. Bush, was going to call and give us a congratulations. My phone rang and it was a private number. I picked it up and it was the president. He asked if Peyton was beside me. Peyton was on another call and I didn’t know who he was talking to. I told Peyton he needed to take this call and he was like, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone.’ I kept being persistent and telling him he needed to take the call. He’s making faces at me and finally I handed him the phone. He’s very exasperated at me. When he finally realized it was the president, we both busted out laughing. That was Peyton Manning all the way for me.”
He continued to stay frugal
Clyde Christensen, former Colts assistant coach: “The first time I went to play golf with him up at Trophy Club [in Lebanon, Indiana] he calls while I’m following him and he goes, ‘Will you pick me up because I’m going to leave my car at the gas station here on the way up here.’ He gets in my car and I ask if there’s something wrong with his car. He goes, ‘I’m almost over the miles limit on my lease and if you go over, it’s like 15 cents a mile.’ He was worried about exceeding the miles on what was like a four- or five-mile trip to the course. This is Peyton Manning worried about going over his miles on his lease.
I remember grabbing his ball out of the hole on the first hole and there’s a picture on the ball that says Smith Family Reunion on it. I asked him where he got the ball from and he’s like, ‘You can get these balls cheap because they printed too many for these family reunions.’ He saved money by buying somebody else’s balls because they had leftovers. I told him don’t ever do that again. I said, ‘I promise, if you call Titleist, you can get some free balls.’ Sure enough, the next time we played, he gave me a sleeve of Titleist balls that had the No. 18 on them. Peyton being frugal didn’t change much over the next 11, 12 years. What I loved about him is he’s a simple liver. He keeps it simple despite who he was on the football field.”
He had it at an early age
Jim Mora, Manning’s coach with the Colts from 1998 to 2001: “When I was coach of the Saints from 1986 to ’96, his dad, Archie [Manning], especially early, was the color guy for the radio broadcast and he was around the Saints facility. When Peyton was a young kid, he would come to the games. In the offseason, sometimes we’d have informal workouts. Receivers and quarterbacks, whoever was in town, we would get out there. We’d throw some routes and stuff like that. I know a few times, Archie would call me when Peyton was in high school and when he was at Tennessee and say he knew we were doing informal workouts on the field and ask if Peyton could come over and watch. He’d be standing out in the field, and I’d tell Peyton to go take a snap or two and throw routes to our receivers. He’d jump in there and be very impressive, even in high school. You could see that he had what it took to be special. There were also a few times during the summer he would get a workout in at our weight room. I remember one time in particular, I was the only guy in the weight room getting a cardio workout. Peyton would pump that iron like crazy, lifting the weights like a lineman. These are things you saw him do as a high school guy and a college guy around an NFL team.”
He really wanted to be the first pick
Bill Polian, former Colts general manager who made Manning the No. 1 overall pick in 1998: “He came in a week or so before the draft to finish up something that had to do with a physical. He stopped by my office on his way out. We talked about the draft and he asked if I made up my mind yet. I told him, ‘No, but I’m very late in doing those things. I turn over every single leaf. Don’t take that as anything other than the fact that’s the way I do things.’ He got a little annoyed. He said he had to go to New York and ‘If I’m not going to be the No. 1 pick, I don’t want to go to New York.’ I said I understood that. I asked when he was going to New York and he said Thursday because the draft was on Saturday then. I asked if he promised that he wouldn’t reveal the pick if I would let him know before he left Thursday what the decision would be. He couldn’t reveal it because [owner] Mr. [Jim] Irsay wanted to be a part of the ceremony of whoever we picked in New York. He gave me his word that he wouldn’t say anything. We shook hands and he got up to leave. He was in the doorway, he turned around and said, ‘I would like to leave you with this thought. If you take me, I promise we’ll win a championship. If you don’t, I promise I’ll come back and kick your ass.’ I laughed and I think I said, ‘Fair enough’ — something like that. It didn’t surprise me he said that. I knew he was a great competitor, but what it did tell me is how much he valued being the first pick.”
Mora: “We were going to pick a quarterback because we needed one. It came down to Peyton and Ryan Leaf. We did a very, very thorough evaluation of both of those guys. When you have the first pick in the draft and you’re going to pick a quarterback, you better not screw it up. Based upon our evaluations of both guys physically and emotionally and mentally, Peyton was the guy. One week after the draft, we had a minicamp and he stepped into the huddle that very first practice as our starting quarterback. That was our intention. We weren’t going to sit him for a couple of years and let him learn by watching. I’ve always been a believer that you learn best by playing and making mistakes or doing good. I told him, ‘You’re going to struggle some this first year, you’re going to have some tough days, but you’re going to learn and you’re going to benefit by playing and making mistakes and things like that rather than sitting on the bench.’ We didn’t have any quarterback I felt could help us win. He had some rough days that first year, going 3-13, but we hung with him and it paid off. I know about three quarters of the way through the season, you could tell he was all of a sudden starting to come on and play good. The next year we were 13-3 and won the division and went to the playoffs with Peyton.”
He loved the video room so much he brought it home
Reggie Wayne, Manning’s teammate from 2001 to ’11: “Everything this dude did he prepared for it. There’s nobody I know that prepares for anything more than this dude. Everything he did he had down to a science, which makes me believe that’s how he lived his life. I think he woke up in the morning and had everything mapped out already. If he wakes up at 7 in the morning, at 7:05 he’s going to brush his teeth. At 7:08 he’s going to start putting his socks on. That’s what I’m saying, his preparation level was incredible. He knew how he wanted everything done. He knew how to do it. It was already like it was written out of him. He had tunnel vision. I don’t think the dude had no social life because everything was football. Not that he could go very many places without getting bum rushed. Football, football, football.
I remember the first time I went to his house and in his basement where a normal person would have a theater room, he had like a clone of the meeting room from the complex. He had the big screen, he had the projector. He had all the equipment we have in the meeting room in his basement. For me, it was like, cool, I get to leave the complex and go hang with Peyton. I walk in his house and then it feels like I’m back at the complex. That’s just how it was with him. That’s what you respected about him.”
He studies health care like it’s a playbook
Jonathan Nalli, CEO of St. Vincent Hospitals, which is part of the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital: “When a patient or parents see him walk in a room it’s like Christmas came. It’s amazing. Their eyes light up. The smile on their face. It’s like they grow 10 feet tall and their heart gets big. Whatever is ailing them, it goes away for a little bit of time. It’s magic. We say he’s the best medicine. It’s crazy in that when you think about all the medicines we treat kids with, the Peyton Manning visit, or letter, or phone call or note is the one that works best. We treat Peyton like a senior member of the staff. It’s fun because what you find is, he studies health care and pediatric care the way he studies a playbook. Questions he asks: How do we find out what’s better? How do we perform? That’s what drives our team in that when we know he’s in town or we’re going to have a strategy session, you get Peyton Manning, the playbook study champion and it’s awesome because here he is soaking up all this information and he gets it.”
‘He was rhythmically challenged’
Gary Brackett, Manning’s teammate from 2003 to ’11: “One of the best workouts of the week was after the full-pad practice each week. We would all go in and work out after practice and listen to the ‘Rocky’ soundtrack. ‘Rocky’ is classic. It’s blaring in there. That was a good team-building thing. We all knew we were all working for a common goal. With ‘Rocky,’ we always had that underdog mentality and nobody else portrayed that but the ‘Rocky’ soundtrack. Guys really enjoyed those types of moments. It was Peyton’s music choice because he liked to remind us that we were the underdogs. He was always the DJ after the game. After away games it would be Peyton on the little intercom on the plane. He would use it as a microphone and put his iPhone or iPad up there and blare it through the plane. It was like surround sound on the plane. He tried to accommodate everybody’s music choice. DJ Peyton. He had some of his favorites like Kenny Chesney on there. He would play a little Snoop, a little Dr. Dre. I think we saw his rhythm. I think he was rhythmically challenged. He made up for it on the football field.”
He wanted to get everyone ‘dialed in’
Dungy: “Peyton would come in on Tuesdays, which was supposed to be their day off. He would come in with a long legal pad of what he had been watching and what he felt he could do and plays that he would talk to the offensive coaches about. He was zeroed in from Tuesday on. He was very, very serious about the preparation to the point on Saturdays I would let the kids come to practice and maybe about twice a year, he would have discussion with me on if we needed to have the kids on the practice field. He suggested maybe having them come in the locker room. He felt like they didn’t need to be out there. He wanted everybody to be dialed in, and I always told him we’d be OK. He was to the point that he didn’t want anything in the way of that preparation. Even the stories about practicing with the wet balls for the Super Bowl. Those little things most players wouldn’t even think about.”
Vinatieri “He’d like to have fun, but I think leading up to the game, Peyton and [New England coach] Bill Belichick are the two most serious people when it comes to practice and preparation. I know there are guys that are serious about it, but can still have a good time. Polar opposite of [former Colts punter] Pat McAfee. Pat is the type of guy where he would work his craft and was always serious about being the best out there, but he was jawing with guys on the team in the middle of plays. I think Peyton was the type of guy where it was going to be miserable in here because you better be on your stuff. Then we’re going to have fun on Sundays after we whip their butts. It was fun for the plane ride or until we started installing on Mondays. Very, very intense preparer.”
Jon Gruden, Tampa Bay coach when Manning led the Colts from 21 points down with 5:09 left in the game to beat the Bucs in overtime on Oct. 6, 2003: “I nicknamed him the ‘Sheriff’ because he always got his man. He certainly got me that night on Monday Night Football. He brought me down big-time, but he was a great competitor. What he did behind the scenes with his preparation and his clutch performing was unbelievable, how he elevated the level of all his teammates, and I just hope my head isn’t under his right foot when they unveil the statue.”
‘He taught me how to be a pro’
Robert Mathis, Manning’s teammate from 2003 to ’11: “I learned early on not to touch the prize possession in practice. I came fresh out of college [in 2003] and the quarterback was live in a lot of practices in college. I had to learn fast that this is a grown man business. You protect the investment. Everybody from the coaches, players, that law of the land is that you don’t touch the quarterback. He taught me how to be a pro just by watching him. How he approached the game. When you’re going against one of the best in the league, your pass defense is going to be where it needs to be. I feel like he made a lot of guys better, and vice versa. I played with a special one. Looking back on it now, I think we were spoiled. You just knew we were going to jump up 14 with Peyton and the offense out there. It was not even a question. Just a matter of my brother on the other side, getting a rush plan together. We just had to protect the lead.”
Marlin Jackson, Manning’s teammate from 2005 to ’09: “His accuracy is what stands out. Nothing against [backup QB] Jim Sorgi, but there was a major difference in the comfort level when Sorgi was in there. From balls that you may break up or intercept when Sorgi was getting some reps, Peyton is right on the money. You just couldn’t get to it. Even in practice when trying to disguise your coverages and playing those mental games and chess games back and forth with him. He was one of the best with the X’s and O’s on top of having the arm strength and accuracy. He made you even better in your craft. You were going against the best quarterback each and every day in practice, which will make you play better and be more confident in the game. I played the best football of my career being around Peyton Manning. As you develop and come in from college and you realize you’re playing with some of the best players that may ever play the game, you work harder. You have to work harder in order to keep up and compete. It brings out the best in you.”
Jim Sorgi, Manning’s backup from 2004 to ’09: “We were a tight-knit quarterback group. If one of us was a little bit late getting to the complex for an early meeting, none of us went in. We’d all wait for all of us to get there. It was a quarterback room. It was a room, not an individual, even though he was the most important of that room. As the backup, you knew that the starter has to get the reps to prepare for the game. In training camp, if you had a 10-play period in camp, you would take two snaps. But in the regular season, those two snaps became nonexistent. He was taking all 10. What he was really good at was those games that didn’t really mean anything. When it came time for me to play a game that he knew I was going to get snaps in, he was good about giving those reps to me so I could prepare and play well. He wasn’t a guy that was going to just check out once he came out of a game. He stayed in it and helped me from the sideline with looks and schemes and plays that could work. It proved to be successful.”
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