How Legends Say Goodbye: Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis Meet at the End
I spent 14 years living in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ironically, my arrival in Indy just about coincided with Peyton Manning's arrival as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
Over those years I got to watch one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks grow into, well, one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks. It wasn't easy. After all, I am a Washington Redskins fan. Fortunately, the Redskins rarely faced the Colts. After all, Peyton had the Colts consistently in the playoffs and Dan Snyder had the Redskins consistently in the basement of the NFC East. I could be a Peyton fan and not feel like I was betraying my hometown team.
Believe it or not, in Indianapolis, Peyton was a bit of an enigma. He did incredible things for the city, and not just on the field. There is a reason the children's hospital in Indianapolis is named after him. And yet, he always seemed out of reach to the fans.
I recall 'meeting' Manning once in person. If you can call it that. I was working at a local TV station in Indianapolis and Manning was in the building shooting a promo. I was in getting coffee when Manning walked by. No entourage, no publicists, no media. Just Manning. He wasn't as tall as I thought he would be.
Here was my chance to walk up to him and say something, maybe get his autograph. Yet, there was something about the look on his face. He had that intense look on his face that everyone has seen during NFL games. The look of utter concentration and/or frustration. It was that look that kept me from saying anything to him that day.
And I think that is the sense many of the people in Indianapolis had about Manning. You wanted to go up and shake his hand, get your picture taken with him, but there was always that sense that he was out of reach, that you didn't want to break his concentration. Still, you would always have Peyton's back.
There will be some people who will blame Peyton for the Broncos being eliminated from the playoffs this weekend. They will ignore the fact that the defense allowed a touchdown with 30-odd seconds left on a pass that I could have defended, they will ignore the game should never had gone into overtime.
They will focus on the interception that Manning should never have thrown. And they will be partially correct. He should never have thrown the pass, especially when he has even admitted he's not 100%. But that has always been Manning's problem. He has always felt that he has to do everything himself. Which explains his mediocre playoff record.
So, who does everyone love Manning so much? Even those whose teams he regularly beats?
Simple, and it was on display after the Broncos lost to Ravens this weekend.
Long after the game was over and the teams had left the locker rooms, Manning walked into the Ravens locker room to speak to Ray Lewis, who had announced that he was retiring at the end of the Ravens' playoff run. There were no TV cameras, no throngs of reporters, no players. If not for some Ravens' team personnel and some stray media-types we may have never known the meeting took place.
Manning wanted to offer Lewis congratulations, probably on a great career and how he was probably NOT going to miss Lewis tormenting him on the field.
Does Manning do things for image sake? Absolutely! He is the master of image control. Ask anyone in the Indianapolis media about Manning and his image control-freak nature. Even his departure from the Colts was a masterpiece of image control.
But in this case, Manning didn't do it for publicity. He didn't do it for image. He just did it because that is who Manning is. Manning respects the game and he respects the players that play it. And when one of the greats decides to call it quits, Manning is there with a few honest words.
That is why people love Manning. He may be a control freak, but he's an honest control freak. He respects the game, and he respects the people.
Here's hoping that when Manning announces his retirement, the next generation of quarterback - Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, RGIII, Andrew Luck - will walk into the locker room long afer a game is over and thank him for his years of service to the game.