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Commentary: Manning special on and off the field

I first met Peyton Manning at a Sugar Bowl practice in the Superdome. He was tagging along with his father, Archie.
Peyton was still in high school, but you could tell the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in that family. He was a ‘yes sir’, ‘no sir’ young man and college football recruiters from coast-to-coast knew who he was.
Peyton was the middle son. Cooper, or Cuh-pah as the matriarch of the Manning family calls him, was the oldest and Eli the youngest.
Archie said that day that his kids had three distinct personalities. He said Cooper was the comedian of the family. Peyton was the pleaser. He strived to please his parents, to please his coaches. You name it, Peyton wanted to please them.
Eli was ambivalent. He took life as it came. While Peyton could tell you everything about college football history in general and SEC football in particular, Eli viewed it as a waste of time.
Peyton said when he came home for a break while a student at Tennessee, he saw stacks of letters in Eli’s room. They were recruiting letters from college coaches.
When Eli asked Peyton who Joe Paterno was, Peyton just shook his head.
Different as they are, however, anyone that mistreats one of them, has the other two to deal with.
Peyton was a no-brainer first pick in the NFL draft, but only after he completed four years with the Tennessee Vols. He could have taken his money a year earlier, but again he was mature enough to realize he would look back on his college career as some of the best days of his life. The NFL money was always going to be there.
After a rough rookie year in Indianapolis, Manning has done nothing but win games, get the Colts to the playoffs, become a Super Bowl MVP and keep adding numbers to career records.
But when Manning suffered a neck injury that turned out to be more serious than first thought, it made him realize that one hit in the wrong place could paralyze him for life. He endured four surgeries. After the last one, Manning was left with a weakened right arm, especially his triceps muscle.
His return to the NFL was in doubt. Even the ever-optimistic Manning was worried. His wife Ashley pushed him to keep trying. Slowly, the muscles and nerves responded, but he was released by the Colts and signed as a free agent with the Broncos where his legend continues to flourish.
With one regular season remaining, Manning has a NFL record 51 touchdown passes in a season. His team is poised to grab a top seeding for the playoffs.
But it is the off-the-field thoughtfulness that makes Manning stand out. His number of past handwritten thank-you and thinking of you notes to friends and strangers alike compare to his NFL Hall of Fame numbers.
Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins wrote the main story in SI’s current Sportsman of the Year edition. Manning sent former Colts video director, Marty Heckscher, a sympathy note when Heckscher’s father died. He wrote another to a strength coach the Colts let go. He wrote a 63-year-old Indianan to allay the man’s pre-surgery fears about the same neck fusion surgery Manning had.
Most men are not note writers. They may think about it, but let other things get in the way. Not Peyton Manning.
Special people do special things to make others feel special. Peyton Manning is special.
Sport Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at

Posted on: 12/26/2013


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