Friday, March 9, 2012

A True Gem

I have lived in the Indy area for about 13 1/2 years, moving here just a few months after Bill and I married, and the same year as Peyton Manning's rookie season with the Colts.  I remember that football season well, even though we didn't move here until November of '98, well into the football season.  Peyton's name was all over the news, so it was hard not to notice him.  Peyton had a great 1st season, despite the Colts' losing record of 3-13, setting all kinds of rookie records and winning the hearts of people all over the Indy area, including mine. 

Peyton's humble, boyish charm (along with his amazing athletic skill) quickly won Indy fans like me over that first year. I was never a huge football fan, especially not when it came to the NFL, until Peyton Manning came along.  Watching him play was so much fun, that as soon as one game was over, I was already anticipating the next one. Even when he had a bad week, I could never be mad or frustrated with him.  After all, no one is perfect.

I've never known Indy without Peyton, so the thought of living here without him feels sorta like a best friend suddenly moving away - getting an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach, not knowing when you might see him again. Except that we will likely see him again, wearing another team's uniform, winning over a new set of fans. Next fall, no matter where he might end up, I am sure to have a bad case of fan envy, jealous that another city has him as their own.  

Peyton Manning (center) warming up at Colts Training Camp, August 2009

 My girls are sad too. Peyton was their favorite and the only Colts quarterback the girls have ever known.  They don't understand why he's leaving, and why would they? No matter how many times we explain that he is a professional, that playing football is what he is paid to do, that the NFL and the Colts are a business, they just don't get it.  They see football only as a sport, something to do for fun and to entertain fans, not for a way for someone to make money.  One of Kiki's favorite toys when she was little was "football bear, which was a Peyton Manning Beanie Baby that she carried around everywhere.  Ah, memories. *Sniff*

I am not normally one to put celebrities or sports figures high up on a pedestal.  I think in general professional athletes are overpaid and so many of them parade around like they are so much better than everyone else. Often you hear of a football players getting arrested, beating girlfriends or wives, or driving drunk and making a fools out of themselves. But not Peyton.  

 One of the reasons he is so popular with so many different people is because he is so humble and down to Earth.  After a big play, he might flash a quick smile after completing one of his spectacular touchdown passes, occasionally patting a few guys on the back on his way to the sidelines. But then he gets right back to work, talking with his coaches and fellow teammates, plotting out his next play. No dancing around or running to high five fans in the end zone.  No spiking the football or jumping all around chest bumping other players.  And he doesn't throw fits when he doesn't play well. Sure, you might see a grimace or shake of the head when a play went horribly wrong. But then he'd get right back to work, trying to see how he could fix his mistake.

Peyton meant so much more to Indy, to his fans, than just football. He was a fantastic role model for thousands of boys and girls. He gives much of his earnings to charity, including making a huge donation to a local children's hospital, which is now named after him. Not only did he donate his money, but he invested many hours off of the field and off season to help so many in need. Whether it was coaching or mentoring kids, participating in a fundraiser, hosting a football game for HS students or visiting sick kids in the hospital, Peyton was always dedicated to helping people in our community. Not only did the city and Colts fans embrace Peyton, he embraced us as well.  He always made sure we knew he was part of this city, that he wasn't just here to play a game.  I wish there were more like him in sports and in life.  He is a true gem.  

Peyton Manning accepting a community service award, August 2009

So life goes on in Indy, for the Colts, without Peyton.  I am still a Colts fan and won't jump off any bandwagons just because he is gone. I know he was out all of this season with a neck injury, but it will still be awfully strange when football season starts next fall, to see the number 18 jersey hanging from the rafters and not on the back of a player I was used to seeing on the field every Sunday.

 Thanks for a fantastic 14 years, Peyton. You may be gone from Indy now, but you will always have a place in our hearts.  

Girls at Colts training camp August 2009

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