I am not a huge Peyton Manning fan, per se.
For instance, if the Denver Broncos were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers (my favorite team) today, I would be rooting for the Steelers defense to — hmm, how should I put this — gently place Mr. Manning on his backside.
Now, my wife is a big Peyton Manning fan, and her devotion travels. She used to be an Indianapolis Colts fan and now she pulls for the Denver Broncos, because of No. 18.
We had to go into separate rooms in January 2006 when the Steelers and the Manning-led Colts met in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. She would yelp every time the Colts scored, and I’d slap the couch in another part of the house when the Steelers scored. The Steelers eventually won the game that year — and ultimately the Super Bowl — but our marriage survived.
When the Steelers are out of the playoffs (as they are this year), I revert to rooting against the teams I loathe. This list is comprised of exactly three franchises: the San Francisco 49ers (whose narcissistic quarterback, Colin Kaepernik, likes to kiss his own tattoos), the Dallas Cowboys (the erstwhile “America’s Team” which has only won one playoff game since 1996) and the New England Patriots (hereafter to be referred to as simply the Evil Empire).
My dislike for the Cowboys and 49ers traces to the fact that both have won five Super Bowls, to the Steelers’ six. My hate for the Evil Empire is visceral. I dislike almost everything about the Pats, from quarterback Tom Brady’s exaggerated nonchalance to head coach Bill Belichick’s weaned-on-a-pickle persona.
So, today I will be rooting for Peyton Manning and his Broncos to vanquish the gang from Foxborough, Mass. (Which probably means the Pats will win. My track record in rooting for teams to lose is lousy.)
I actually have no problem cheering for Manning today. Although he’s not my favorite player, he holds the distinction of being the NFL player whose character I most admire. I’d go a step further and say he’s the guy I’d most like my two sons to emulate. Sorry (Steelers’ quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger, you aren’t even in the discussion.
Here’s my back-of-the-napkin list of the reasons Manning will be remembered as one of the true class acts in NFL history.
• He doesn’t let his talent outrun his work ethic. The world is full of people who are talented and people who are workaholics. What the world is not full of, however, is talented workaholics.
If you’ve ever seen one of Manning’s line-of-scrimmage filibusters you know he has so many hand signals and word commands you half expect him to shout “Freebird!” and hold up a lighter. Imagine, as one commentator pointed out last week, the grind it must be to repeat that act scores of times a week in practice. It takes a grown man to be an NFL quarterback, but it takes a special mindset — and superhuman tolerance for hard work — to be in the conversation as one of the best NFL quarterbacks ever.
• He loves his little brother. One of my favorite mental images of Peyton is him standing in a skybox watching his younger brother Eli, quarterback of the New York Giants, deny Tom Brady and the Patriots their shot at a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII. The smirk on Peyton’s face was priceless.
Another favorite is the commercial in which Peyton and Eli exchange butt kicks and wet willies during a tour of the ESPN studios until their dad Archie turns around and stares them both down.
The NFL is blessed to be associated with such a solid family.
• He honors his father. I’m just old enough to remember Archie’s days as quarterback of the Ole Miss Rebels. ESPN’s recent documentary “The Book of Manning” captured Archie’s incredible athleticism, along with his struggle to overcome his father’s suicide.
The portrait emerges of man determined to raise honorable sons, and to temper his enthusiasm for sports to match each son’s personality. Archie is one of the all-time great Southern fathers. You can see it in the way the way the Manning boys carry themselves — with restraint and good manners.
• He has a sense of humor. OK, how many professional athletes could actually be sketch comedians? Peyton Manning could. His many appearances on “Saturday Night Live” are legend.
I’ll never forget the time on “SNL,” in a spoof of a United Way Commercial, he told a little kid to go sit in the Port-O-Potty for 20 minutes after he missed a pass in a sandlot game. “I can’t even look at you,” Manning deadpanned. Who else could get away with that?
• He never quits. After repeated neck surgeries, Manning could have quit the league and mailed in his stats to the Hall of Fame. Instead, he drew energy from his shunning by the Colts — for quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 draft pick — to make a run at a Super Bowl with another franchise.
Well, what have we here? Mr. Luck and his Colts lost to the Pats last week.
And look who’s still standing. The guy with the bad neck.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.