I’ll say this up front for full disclosure.
I admire Peyton Manning as a person and as a player, and view him as a model athlete. The outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII hasn’t changed that a bit. So, this isn’t one of the columns today criticizing him.
Like father, Like Son
My appreciation for the Manning family goes back to my high school days. Archie Manning was one of my favorite players growing up. He was five years ahead of me and first drew my attention as quarterback at Ole Miss. His years with the New Orleans Saints only added to my admiration for him.
Archie Manning was a leader. He was tough physically and tough mentally. He played for a Saints franchise best known at the time for the fans wearing bags over their heads in disgust. The teams were awful. From the time the Saints entered the league in 1967, they played 20-straight seasons without posting a winning record. Archie Manning arrived in year 5.
I have never seen a quarterback take more punishment over an extended period of time, than did Archie Manning with the Saints. In his 9-years as the starting quarterback in New Orleans (he missed the 1976 season with an injury), Archie Manning was among the top-10 most sacked quarterbacks every season. Despite being a mobile quarterback, he led the NFL in sacks 3-times in his first 5-years in the league. In his rookie season with the Saints in 1971, he was sacked on more than 18% of his dropbacks according to pro-football-reference.com. Yet, he was Top-10 in passer rating 4-times, Top-3 in completions and passing yards 3-times, and twice went to the Pro Bowl. It was no coincidence that his two Pro Bowl years were the two seasons in which he was sacked the fewest times.
Despite being dealt a poor hand, Archie Manning never gave in to the negativity. He was accountable for his own play and took responsibility for his team’s shortcomings. He didn’t blame others and didn’t make excuses. I admired that resolve. Effort and attitude always have been important to me. They are two things in life we alone control. So, I found Archie Manning to be an easy player to root for.
His Saints jersey was the first one I ever bought.
So, as Archie’s son, Peyton, came along, I watched with interest to see if Peyton would exhibit the same qualities we saw in his father. He did and still does. Peyton may have been too young to understand all that his dad went through, but it’s evident that Archie and Olivia Manning made sure their sons learned about the importance of respect, honor and commitment.
A Character Study
You find out a lot about people when they go through adversity. Peyton Manning has certainly had his share as a professional athlete. Think of the way in which he dealt with his release by the Indianapolis Colts. He was genuine, speaking from the heart. It is difficult to imagine anyone handling it any better. This is who he is. He shows humility and deflects credit when his team wins, he shows grace and is accountable when his team loses.
After the Broncos poor performance in Super Bowl XLVIII, there will be plenty of Peyton Manning bashing going on. But, not a lot of it is coming from NFL players. You can chalk that up to the respect of his peers.
Richard Sherman Defends Manning
Take Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman, for example. His post-game rant after the NFC Championship game was less than graceful, but Sherman showed a lot of class when some of his Twitter® followers bashed Manning following Seattle’s dominating Super Bowl victory. Sherman tweeted back “Peyton is the Classiest person/player I have ever met! I could learn so much from him! Thank you for being a great Competitor and person”
Sherman appeared on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike show Monday morning. Asked about defending Manning, Sherman said that he felt some of his followers were too personal in their criticism. Sherman then related a story that spoke of Peyton Manning’s character. Sherman said that as he was about to limp up the stairs to the news conference after the game, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He said it was Manning, who then extended his hand, congratulated Sherman, and asked if he was O.K. Sherman said that for Peyton to express genuine concern for the well-being of an opponent after such a tough loss, showed a lot of class and humility. Sherman said he thought people ought to know that about Peyton Manning.
I couldn’t agree more.
As someone who cares about youth sports, I appreciate and admire athletes who show grace in defeat. It isn’t easy. It’s painful to lose. And, the degree to which you feel that hurt is in direct proportion to the amount of effort you put in to win.
There isn’t anyone who wants to win any more than does Peyton Manning. His work ethic is legendary. Consider what it took to return from multiple neck surgeries. The lack of shoulder strength required him to learn a new way of throwing a football. He had to strengthen his core and leg muscles to help power his throws. Last season, his team was less than a minute way from playing for the AFC Championship, only to have a defensive mistake allow Baltimore’s “hail mary” touchdown pass to force overtime in a game the Broncos eventually lost. Then, this year, Peyton Manning directed an offense that scored the most points in NFL history. He set a league record with 55-touchdown passes and earned his 5th MVP award. But, again, it ended with an excruciating loss, with Peyton and the Broncos playing the worst game of their season, with the championship on the line.
Despite it all, Peyton Manning didn’t lose his humanity. That’s a tribute to his character and integrity.
The saying “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser” is one of those old quotes that needs to disappear from the thinking of all coaches and parents. No one wants to lose. And, no one expects you to be happy about losing. But, if you compete at anything, there will be times when you don’t win. To think that behaving like a jerk after a loss somehow means you want to win more than the person who is respectful in defeat, is ludicrous.
Poor sportsmanship can’t be explained away so easily.
So, continue to debate the “legacy” of Peyton Manning and his place among the all-time greats, all you want.
Peyton Manning is one of the most respected players in NFL history. He’s a player who continues to be a role model for young athletes by representing his sport with passion, honor, and integrity.
On that point, there is no debate.
Photo Credit: CraiginDenver via Flickr
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Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.