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Peyton Manning

Interview: Peyton Manning
Super Bowl Champion Quarterback

June 22, 2007
Washington, D.C.

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Peyton, you've achieved every quarterback's dream, leading your team, the Indianapolis Colts, to a Super Bowl victory. What prepared you to be a professional athlete, and to succeed at it?

Peyton Manning: I think experience is the best teacher in all facets, and so to play college football in a place like Tennessee, extremely high-profile program, playing on national TV every Saturday, great big crowds and demands on your time as a student athlete, I think that experience prepared me as much as it could for the professional ranks. There was a major adjustment to the physical part of the game, the speed of the game, the complexity of defenses. There is a major adjustment there. I think playing at Tennessee prepared me as much as it could, but there are still going to be those growing pains, and then the media demands are more intense, but you have a preparation.


The biggest challenge for most kids, and for me, is the adjustment of having money in your pocket. That is the biggest change. Football for me -- sometimes I am kind of embarrassed to say it -- it was my first job. When I was in the summers, I was playing so much baseball and working out for football. I was kind of ahead of the curve as a high school kid, as far as off-season workouts as a football player. Most kids, they play football when football season starts, but I was throwing pass patterns with my receivers in May, June, and July. I'm calling them, going, "Where are you? It's 12 o'clock," and this guy is going, "Well, I have a job this summer." I'm going, "Well, that's not going to cut it. You need to be here throwing with the quarterback." I had my chores at my house or whatnot, but I never had an office job or never had a, you know, employee contract. When I signed my contract with the Colts, that was the first contract I'd ever signed.

I think the worst question that the media asks athletes when they sign their contracts, or when they get drafted, is "What are you going to do with your money?" That's a bad question. There's not a good answer that people want to hear come from that. I blame the media for asking the question. But the answer that I gave, which I think all of them should say, is "I'm going to earn it." That's what I said, "I'm going to earn it," and not, "I'm going to go buy this or buy that." I'm going to go earn it. That is how I have always felt about the money that you make as an athlete, the money that you are paid on your potential, to go earn it, to make the owner and the president happy about the investment they made in you, about working hard to be the best player that you can be.

There is more to what you do than just run out on the field and play. There is a mental aspect too, isn't there?

Peyton Manning: No question.

Peyton Manning: The cerebral part of the game is the most challenging part of the game. You wouldn't be in the NFL if you didn't have the physical skills. I've spent tons of time, like I said, the workouts as a high school kid, lifting weights, running by yourself. You do that, but you have to do that. The cerebral part is where you can advance yourself and (what you) have to constantly stay on top of. Both of them, really. If you ever stop working out, that is when you get injured, you get behind. But you have to stay so sharp mentally. I think sometimes you can get away with the physical part with being a great athlete. I can overcome that, but the cerebral part, you can't get behind in the mental aspect of the game. Everything happens so fast.

Before you get to the actual physical part of the game, before you get to trying to avoid the 300-pounders, or completing passes against these guys that are fast, you have noise, which is an irritant. You can't hear. How many other people work where you just can't hear? You have weather, 60 percent of the time. Sometimes you're playing in a dome, it's perfect weather, but weather's a factor. You have time. That's the big difference. Baseball players, there's no time. There's no clock. The guy can pitch whenever he wants. We have to operate under a clock, and then you have ten other guys that you're trying to coordinate out there. So if you are not strong mentally, and sharp mentally, and rested, you will get behind in that aspect of the game.

Sports writers and sportscasters talk about character. How do you define character in an athlete?

Peyton Manning: I think character is what you're doing when nobody else is around. To me, that's the best way that I know to describe it. Are you the right kind of guy? Do you have the right things inside of you? Do you love the game? Like I said, would you play for free in the NFL? Obviously, I wouldn't tell my owner that, but I would. I think you want to be around those kind of guys, guys that love it, guys that are thinking about it. They always say, "Don't take your job home." When you go home, don't take it. I don't agree with that. I think if you love what you do, there is nothing wrong with being home with your family and thinking about the game that Sunday, or thinking about, "I might need to do this." That means you love it. That doesn't mean you're obsessed with it. That doesn't mean that your priorities are out of whack. That means you love what you do. I think it has a lot to do with the character of the guys that you have on your team.

Another thing sportswriters talk about is "intangibles." What are intangibles?

Peyton Manning: I don't totally know. That's one of those buzz words that's just kind of been created. That's the big thing, when guys are coming out of the draft and the analysts are breaking him down, they say, "Well, he's got the physical part. I'm not sure if he has the intangibles." Well, give us a list of something. Tell me you need something. You hear the term "the sixth sense" and "in the pocket," or "He can run, but you have to feel these guys rushing you," and there's something to that. I guess that would be an example of an intangible. Do you just feel something? Do you feel somebody about to hit you? Do you slide up or do you slide the other way?

I think what they're talking about is that ability to elevate the rest of the guys around you. Your presence probably has a lot to do with it. That might be considered an intangible, something that you can't touch or whatever, but just when you walk into that huddle, when you talk into that practice field, letting everybody else know it's time to get down to business and, "Hey, we got a chance with this guy in the huddle." I think quarterbacking especially, you need to have a presence about you and the way that you walk and you carry yourself and the way that you speak.

You can't play quarterback without being second-guessed. How do you deal with criticism?

Peyton Manning: You try. I don't read it much, the newspapers. You like to read to keep up with what's going on in the world and certainly in the sporting world. If there is a big picture of you in an article, it's hard not to go, "Let me just see what it says." I've gotten a lot better at that, not reading the good articles along with the bad articles. I think you've got to be consistent. Don't read the paper after you won a game and then when you lose, cancel the subscription to the paper. So I'm pretty consistent, but I've kind of stopped doing both. Ultimately, the old cliché, it's about what you know inside. Did you make the right decision? Did you do everything that you can?

The thing that gives me peace of mind at night after a game, or after a season, is that I knew that I did everything that I could to get ready to play that game. I couldn't have prepared harder. I couldn't have studied any more tape. I couldn't have spent any (more time on) last-minute details, talking to my receivers. I went into that game ready. "Boy, I'd love to have this throw back," or "God, I wish we just could have gotten in the end zone on that play." I don't sleep well that night, but I can sleep, knowing that I did everything I could to get ready.

It's part of the game that you're going to be criticized, and you're going to be critiqued and analyzed from every different angle. So you better have thick skin as a quarterback, and I'd say that's a big part of it. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I think sometimes the media doesn't like when they're challenged. There's nothing wrong with that. You see guys that are speaking up for themselves, but as soon as it becomes a distraction to you, that's when it's getting to you. If you go into a game and you go, "Boy, I better not throw this pass because if I throw this interception, the media is going to criticize me. They're going to call on the radio shows and talk about me," that's when it is affecting what you do. You need to go out there and play the way you know how to play, and deal with it the way you want to deal with it.

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How do you deal with your emotions?

Peyton Manning: You try to keep them in check. I think as a quarterback, that's a real key. I'm kind of jealous, almost envious of some of my teammates that before the game, they're head-butting and they're just all wound up. It would be great to be like that. Some of these guys, they might be on the kickoff team. Their job that day is to run down as fast as they can and hit the guy in front of them as hard as they can. That's their job. I think it would be fun if that was your one assignment for that day, but for me, because of the mental part, I'm very focused. You're intense. I think that's something that people don't differentiate. To say, "He's not emotional," because he's not throwing his helmet or slamming the Gatorade cup, that's not because you're not emotional. You're intense and you're focused and you're ready to move on to the next series. Some people say...


"Well, they don't seem like very emotional guys." You can't play the game without emotion, but you just don't have to slam your helmet to prove that you're emotional and you're intense. You're intense in the way that you're reading the defense. You're intense in the throw that you make. My thing is, if you throw a touchdown pass, I'm already thinking about the next series. You don't need to take a lot of time to celebrate that. I celebrate after the game. I guess I'm emotional in my house after the game, when I'm celebrating with my friends and family. But I think, during the game, I'm very intense and focused on trying to accomplish the next goal.

What's the hardest part of what you do, from your perspective? What's the hardest thing?

Peyton Manning: In my job? The noise, the weather, the time.

Your job is to sort of put everybody else in the right position. It's a lot of responsibility for a quarterback, every single play. To me, that's the biggest challenge. I just kind of compare them to what other athletes go through. You say, "Well, individual sport. A golfer, for example, he's by himself out there. He doesn't have somebody that can help him out. He doesn't have a teammate that can help him out." I agree with that, but he doesn't have anybody else to worry about either. I think that carries more weight than not having anybody to bail you out. I think to get 11 guys all in one direction, to me, is a bigger challenge.

Do you ever worry about the fact that there are four or five 300-pounders coming at you at once to put you down?

Peyton Manning: Yeah. Sure. That's their job. Their job is to put you down. You get used to it.

The first time, my first pro game, in the pre-season, I was thinking, "God, this is pro ball. I know they hit harder." I got hit a lot in college, but I'm going, "Well, this is pro ball. These guys hit harder." I was in my hotel room, practicing getting hit, falling on the bed, just kind of giving in, my pre-game preparation. So you get used to that, but you get so focused on your job at hand and what you want to try to accomplish -- of completing this pass, you're getting your team in the end zone -- that you kind of forget about it. They remind you well when they hit you in the back. You know that they're still there, but you can't drop back thinking about them. If you're doing that, then that's going to affect your decision-making.

You can't win them all. Not every pass is going to be intercepted, but some are going to be. How do you deal with disappointment and setbacks and failure?

Peyton Manning: That's a real challenge and a real issue. Reading the statistics, they had a ranking of quarterbacks, and the statistic was the percentage of a touchdown drive after an interception. To me, that is a telling statistic. The guys that have a high percentage are the guys that have short memories. They talk about having amnesia as a quarterback. You better move along from it. It is hard to say you forget about it, because you want to learn from it. You want to address it. You can't just say it never happened.

When you throw an interception, the first thing I say is, "Why did that happen? Was that my fault? Was that a poor decision by me? Was it bad luck?" A tipped ball, for example, or the wind literally blew the ball. Or was it a miscommunication? It always comes back to the quarterback. Usually, I'm going to feel like it's my responsibility because if the receiver ran the wrong route, I'm going to say, "Well, that's my fault for not being sure he knew what to do." But you better be able to put it behind you right away, otherwise, it's going to drag you further down. Interception, a loss, you name it. You deal with it. You learn from it. You address it, and it's hard to get over, especially a loss. It is hard. You spend so much time during one week -- late night studying, film preparation, weightlifting, practice -- for a three-hour game which you only play half of, and you lose on a field goal. That's frustrating. That is very frustrating. You don't get to play (again) until the following Sunday is a problem. I'm always kind of jealous of baseball players. They get to play the next day and go out and do something about it. Football is a long time to stew over it, but you kind of take Sunday night, and maybe a little bit of Monday, but we always say our rule is the pouting has to stop Monday at five o'clock. You'd better be moving on to the next opponent.

If you lose the last game of the season in the playoffs, you're allowed a little more time to pout. You're allowed into late January, maybe February, and into March, but once the off-season program starts for the following year, you better be over that hangover and ready to move on. What do we need to do to get better? That's been very common for us. We've had some very disappointing losses in the playoffs.

You hate to admit that somebody else is better than you. That's a real stubbornness there, but you study it and you go, "Gosh, we're good, but obviously we're not good enough. We're not as good as we think we are. What do we need to do to get better? Do we need to get some more players? Do we need to work harder? What do I need to do to get better?" So that's what we've done. To me, it's the same exact approach this year that we (used to) accomplish our goal last year. We win this Super Bowl, and you enjoy it. Instead of pouting for two months, you get to celebrate for two months, but once the off-season program starts for the next year, it's over with. It's behind you, and you move on. You say, "How am I going to get better this year?"

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There are many outstanding high school athletes who don't make it in college, and a lot of outstanding college athletes who don't make it in the pros. What does it take? What are the characteristics that you think are important?

Peyton Manning: A lot of factors come into it. There's something to luck and catching a break. I think getting with the right team and having some good guys around you is going to make you a better player. You go to a college, get on a team that has this great quarterback, and you're a wide receiver, he's probably going to make you a better player. The guy that went to a school that had a bad quarterback, the receiver never got to showcase his talents. So some things outside your control can play a part on it. I think the simple answer is work ethic.

My deal was always, "You better work harder in college than you did in high school to make it in college, and if you get to pro ball, you better work a lot harder than you did in college, to make it harder than that, if you want to excel at the pro level." That's what gets some guys, I think. I think they get to the pro ball, and they go, "I've made it! I've done it!" and really, you haven't done anything. If you get drafted, that means you were a good college player. That means you're a great college player, but this NFL is "What are you about to do?" They're paying you for what they hope you do do. So you better be burning some hours and putting in the time in order to accomplish those goals. So that's one thing that can never be sacrificed, is your preparation and your work ethic, keeping yourself in shape, staying sharp mentally, working with your teammates to improve yourself as a player.

You've been quoted as saying that your most important accomplishments are what you do off the field. What does that mean?

Peyton Manning: I'm proudest of some of the work that we've done off the field or things that I just take an enormous amount of pride in, ideally with a charity foundation called the Peyback Foundation. Basically, we provide grants to programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities to children at risk in Indiana, Tennessee, and New Orleans in Louisiana, the three communities that have made an impact on me and that have been supportive of me. This is kind of the way to "pay back," appropriately named, for the blessings and support I've had in my life. There's more kids in those three areas than we could touch in a lifetime, but our goal is that's not going to keep us from trying. We're going to try to touch those kids.

I had two great parents and a great support system growing up, and I understand that not all kids have those same opportunities. So with the Foundation, we're trying to help those kids have that kind of support, and have some of those opportunities, by providing them the opportunity to go to Disney World. We send out 30 kids on a Disney cruise every year. Most of them, it's their first time flying, first time to see water. We're bringing them to Washington, D.C. this year, and there's no way some of these kids, growing up in some of these backgrounds, would ever have a chance to go to the White House or see the Capitol, so providing them, hopefully, memories that will last a lifetime and talking to them also about trying to do the right thing.

It's hard to have a scale in charity work about what is a win. There's no scoreboard. In football it's very clear who wins. I get some letters from teachers.

I got a letter from one particular teacher. She said, first of all, "Dear Mr. Manning, I do not like football." That's the first letter, the first thing she writes out of the box. Let's just -- don't beat around the bush here! But she says, "Some of my students are involved with your Peyback Foundation and some of your programs, and because they feel like someone's looking out for them, they're doing better in my class. So I want to let you know that." I guess that's kind of a touchdown, if you will, in regard to the Peyback Foundation and our charity work, so we're real proud of that. I think it will continue after I finish playing, but I know we can make the biggest impact right now while I'm currently an NFL quarterback.

Do you think about the fact that at the age of 35, or 40 at the most, this career is going to be over? Then what?

Peyton Manning: I try not to think about it, but you have to. You know it's there. I get a little bit jealous of the golfers. Basically, there is no age requirement. They can play until whatever age, and you wish it was like that. I'm 31. I'm going in my tenth year. I've always said, to play 16 years, I think, is realistic. I want to be able to play well for 16 years. You're going to lose some skills as you get older, but I don't want to be one of those guys that's just kind of hanging on. I want to walk away on my own terms, to be fair to your teammates, or to be earning your contract. That's a goal of mine.

My dad played for 15 years. Marino and Elway played 16 and 17. I'd like to play for the same team for that amount of time, which is kind of rare these days, is a goal of mine. But when I do think about it, I get sad, because I know I will struggle with that. I'm not ashamed to admit that, because you talk about a routine, and not "since your first year in the NFL," not "since 1998." You're talking about going back to as a freshman in high school. Every day from August until -- the season is growing in pro ball -- but August to December. Practice is at this time. It's 4:00 to 6:00 in high school, it's 2:00 to 4:00 in college, and it's 1:00 to 3:00 in pro ball, but that is your routine. And then, when you're not playing, you're lifting weights and getting ready. So all of a sudden, at this age, that stops? You're not getting up in the morning. You're not driving to practice. You're not putting on a helmet and shoulder pads. It's a major adjustment. My dad told me how difficult it was. He retired. He went out when he was ready to go out on his own terms, but he just said, "It's hard, because there's a smell in October of football," and not being able to do that...

So what do I want to do? It's hard to say.

I hear some guys talking about what they're going to do when they're finished playing, or talking about this investment or business that they're involved in currently, and I kind of look at them and go, "You know, you're not doing your current job all that well. I'd like you to focus a little more on the blocking and the catching of this football part before you get into this real estate deal." I say that, and I'm kidding with them, but I kind of believe that too, is that it's not fair for me to be thinking about other things and preparing for other things if I'm not giving my current job undivided attention.

I kind of want to be a consultant. I don't really know what that word means, but it sounds like they just pay you to second-guess people. No, I'm kidding!

I think football has been such a big part of my life, it would be hard to not have something to do with the game. The common transition has been the broadcasting. I probably would not get into coaching. I think I'd be a good coach, because I love talking. We have a high school camp for kids, for freshmen through seniors, and love it. I love helping out sophomore high school, working football and talking about it, but I don't think I could handle -- in the professional ranks -- the egos, to tell you the truth. It's hard enough as a player, dealing with all the different personalities. College? I think the recruiting would be hard, to travel all over the road recruiting. I think high school or junior high would probably be the most fun, enjoyable age to coach, the kids that really have that passion and love for it.

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So I don't know. I shake a lot of hands. I keep a lot of business cards. I wish I knew, but I figure I have some time and something will arise. I hope I can find something that comes close to the rush and the thrill that I get playing football. I'm not too optimistic that I will, but you hope you find something so that you can get up in the morning and look forward to going to work.

What was most important to you about winning the Super Bowl?

Peyton Manning: Winning the Super Bowl? It's just nice, as a team, to do something together that you've wanted to do for a long time. I think that's been the most rewarding part of it, being with my team in the weight room, out to dinner, playing golf, looking at some of my teammates and knowing what we did and how we did it together. Having to had to answer some of the dumb questions that I've had to answer, I'd say maybe the best part about it is there will be some new questions that I'll have to answer now. There's always another angle and another criticism out there, but the questions have changed for me, at least temporarily. People try to analyze your look. "I could just see the huge relief off your shoulders," and I say, "Well, you might have seen that. I sure didn't feel that." I don't know what "monkey on your back" means. It's another expression that has just developed in sports media. I just can't agree with it. I don't know what it means. I don't get it. I've never felt that.

I've worked as hard as I possibly could, every year, to be the best player that I could be, to try to help my team win games. I didn't work any harder this past year than I did in previous years. My team played outstanding at the right time, and we got hot, and we accomplished our goal. I didn't feel like there was this huge change in my life because of what happened. I felt very humbled by the whole experience, humbled and fortunate to have been on a team that had a chance to accomplish that.

At the end of the game, watching it on television, I think we saw you and your folks embracing.

Peyton Manning: Yeah. That was special.

I think it was actually after we beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game, which was very much a Super Bowl atmosphere. I think many players felt like, after winning that game, that we would go on to win the Super Bowl. That team has been such a nemesis for us for so many years. I spotted him throughout the melee, and went over there and shared a hug with him. Got a great picture of it, and you talk about a real lasting memory. Like my mother and my brothers, very supportive of each other, and he's been there for me the whole time. When I was a kid, he hugged me after a win, but he hugged me a lot after some of the tough losses that we've had, and I'm the same way with Eli. I'm pulling for him, and I pull for my older brother Cooper and his business, and anything that is going on with him. A very supportive family.

What's it like to play against your brother Eli?

Peyton Manning: I just did it once. Very tough. Very tough.

I've never been prouder to be on the field at the same time with another player. To look across the sideline, to watch, when you're on the sideline and your defense is out there, and to see your little brother out there throwing two touchdowns against your defense, a real proud moment for me. A little bit nervous, because usually you want your defensive end to hit their quarterback as hard as he can. Now you're saying, "Well, I don't want you to hit my brother that hard," but very proud. I found myself looking at him a lot during the game and kind of watching him. I've never been probably as proud to share the field with another player before.

Peyton, what was your childhood like, growing up in New Orleans?

Peyton Manning: I had a very supportive childhood, had two great parents that loved me, supported me, hugged me after games, win or lose. My dad always told me and my two brothers, "Don't ever get too proud or too old to say that you love me and to say that you love each other." "Love" is a pretty commonly used word in our family. When I talk to my brothers now on the phone midday, we always end the conversation saying, "I love you. I love you, bro." So that gives a pretty good indication of the kind of childhood I had and the kind of family that I have.

Parents. I just learned a lot from the things they said. I really learned a lot by the way that they lived. Very sincere, genuine people. Very courteous, very nice. It helped what I'm doing currently.

I got to watch my dad as a kid, how he handled himself after games with fans, with the media. I can remember, as a kid, just how patient he was, and how courteous he was to his fans. I certainly didn't think at five, six, seven years old that I would be doing that same profession. But at the same time, for Eli and I both, now that we are doing that, I remember how he handled himself. My mother still today tells me to be nice and, "They wouldn't ask for your autograph if they didn't want it," and "They'll stop asking for it at some point."

My parents are still a big influence on me. I'm still very close with them. I feel very fortunate to have the kind of support I had as a child. Being the middle child too, I felt was lucky, to have an older brother, Cooper, to look up to, and a younger brother, Eli, that looked up to me.

What kind of kid were you? Were you a good kid?

Peyton Manning: I was a good kid. I think my mother would say I was a sweet kid. Pretty protective I think. I never liked anybody taking advantage of anybody. As I got older, Cooper went off to college, and he would bring some college friends home, and I didn't know these guys, and these guys were eating all our food, and this guy was sleeping in my bed, and I didn't like that, you know, because this was my parents' turf, my turf. So I was very non-trusting of strangers. Kind of a tedious kid. Always made my bed up, I always double-checked the locks on the doors at night and fluffed the pillows if I was the last person on the couch, my mom would say. I liked things right. I'm still like that today. I'm a list guy, a note-taker, an organized kind of guy. I guess I was like that as a kid.

Did you like school?

Peyton Manning: I did like school. I worked hard in school. I had to work hard in school. It didn't come naturally to me, and I could never not study for a test and expect to do even average. I was a grinder, as you would say. I might not study until that morning, but I'd get up at 5:00. I'd have to. I'm a preparation guy. I was taught at an early age about having a work ethic.

My dad used to give me a lot of quotes, just cut out of a newspaper article, or out of a quote book, and put them on a bulletin board. One that just kind of hit me at an early age, probably ten years old, it said -- it was by Chuck Noll, a great coach for the Steelers. He said, "Pressure is something that you feel only when you don't know what you're doing," and that just kind of hit me right away. I was playing baseball and basketball at that age. It certainly applies to football today. You don't feel pressure if you study the game plan and know what to do. School work? The same way. If you know what to do, if you put the time in and study, you really shouldn't feel pressure. Now, you might not ace every test or complete every pass, but you don't feel pressure. Pressure is no fun to perform or to execute that way. So that was kind of my theme as a young kid, and I worked hard in school.

Who influenced you as a young man? Your father, certainly, but were there teachers, books, events?

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Peyton Manning: My dad had such a big influence on me, he was kind of all that wrapped into one. Even if we had a guest speaker at our school, or read something in class, or heard about it, I would always go back and check with him. "Is this right? Would you agree with this, Dad?" He had a big influence on me, so he was the guy I went to for advice and the guy I listened to, and still do today. I went to the same school, kindergarten through twelfth grade. A very disciplined school, academics first, all the way, almost to the point of frustration. As I got in high school and got serious about sports, we were on the field at 4:00, off by 5:30, no questions about it. I was kind of like, "We've got some more plays to run. " We hadn't gotten this right. No. Like I said, it was academics first. I appreciate it now, that I had that kind of academic background. I went to a good, disciplined school, and co-ed, which I think is important. I think you've got to learn to mingle with both males and females in high school to prepare you for the real world out there. I can't think of one particular teacher or one particular book that had a big influence on me. History was probably my favorite class. I really enjoyed hearing about what happened yesteryear: presidents, leaders, their work, learning what made them tick and how they got to where they were.

By the time you were in high school, you were already known as an athlete. There were expectations. When you got to college, surely there were expectations of you. How did you handle that? How did that affect you, being a star athlete as a kid, as a young man?

Peyton Manning: Yeah. I think the expectations I had in college, and the ones I've had in the professional ranks, I was prepared, because I had to deal with it at such a young age. When I was seven or eight years old, playing baseball, traveling with my team, all over the state. Everywhere you went, my dad is in the stands. He was either still playing quarterback for the Saints, or just retired, and still a very popular guy.

People knew who I was, and kids liked to strike me out. They liked it if I made an error, and it was probably a little bigger deal than if their shortstop made the error. So I learned about it at a young age. It probably made me work a little harder at times, so I didn't mess up. Nobody likes to be embarrassed, you know. So when everybody knows who you are, you could be more easily embarrassed because more people are looking at you. It may have motivated me to work a little harder. I knew people were always looking at me, so it made me kind of think twice about the things that I did. That was a positive out of it, especially for the life that I'm in today. People are always watching. It wasn't the cell phone camera back then like it is today, as an eight-year-old, but it was a good learning tool about making the right decisions.

Was it easier or harder being the son of Archie Manning?

Peyton Manning Interview Photo
Peyton Manning: It certainly could have been harder, like other ex-athletes' kids had it. I think because of the way my parents handled it, it wasn't difficult. It felt normal to me. They very much tried to create a normal childhood. Sometimes it's not normal, when you're out to dinner and people come up and talk to him and get his autograph. That's not normal, but in times when you weren't in public, we were very normal. We ate dinner as a family, always had to get up for breakfast and eat breakfast as a family. My dad used to read a daily devotional to the family. They just tried to keep things normal. Now, when you're out in public, you had to be prepared for what came along with that. So I never felt it was difficult. You got used to the things that happened when you were in public. I think, because of just the way they supported us and protected us, it felt very normal.

We've interviewed a number of athletes, and they graduated from college, but not too many of them graduated Phi Beta Kappa. How do you explain that?

Peyton Manning: I don't consider myself to be smarter than the next person. My wife went to the University of Virginia. I always tell her that's because she couldn't get into Tennessee. I joke with her. I worked hard in school. I went to college on a football scholarship, and sure, I had goals and dreams, like most kids. I wanted to play pro football or pro baseball. That was your answer when they asked you that in class. What do you want to be when you grow up? "I want to be a football player." But I was never on this mission to be a football player. To say that I knew I was going to be a football player when I was six years old? Forget it. People that say that, I still don't believe them. You don't know, as a six-year-old, or even as a 16-year-old, what you're going to do.

I went to college, and I said, "I need to get a good education. I'm going to work hard in school," because, like I talked about out there earlier, my older brother had a neck injury. Football career is over like that. Nothing he did about it. He was in school at Ole Miss. He was working hard in school. He has got a lot of friends, and he could be happy without football. So that was kind of my approach: I need to go someplace where I can be happy if my football career doesn't work out, due to injury or due to poor performance. So I felt real comfortable there in college at Tennessee and worked hard in school and studied hard and was very meticulous about the academic side of it. To be named Phi Beta Kappa, I was always real proud of that and still consider that one of my proudest achievements.

Is it hard to resist all the distractions that come with being a high school and college star athlete?

Peyton Manning: Sure. Absolutely. And you don't always resist them. There are some things that you want to do. There are times when you have that talk with yourself: "I ought to be able to do this. This is not fair that I can't do this, and I'm going to do it." Sometimes you find out you can't do it, and it's wrong. You get in trouble. I think there's a learning process to find out what you can do and what you can't do. Sometimes you have to make a mistake to learn what's right and what's wrong. But like all things, you get used to it, and you just know how you've got to be and what the situation has got to be.

Today, when I go to a movie, I'm going to have to come in the normal way, but I'm going out that exit door right by the screen, the one that always opens up to a deserted alley -- you don't even know where you are -- because if you go back out the normal way, everybody's waiting for you with all their autograph stuff. You just know how it's going to be, so you adjust and you prepare for it.

At Tennessee, you could have left school after three years as a number one draft pick. You couldn't do any better than that. But you didn't leave.

Peyton Manning: Probably the toughest decision I had to make at that time. That was the thing, because I had my degree. That was the tough thing. "Well, I'm not going to graduate," I'd say. "I'm going back to school." I just thought a lot about it. I prayed a lot about it. I sought a lot of advice from my dad. My dad got me some phone numbers of some guys that I wanted to call, some other athletes that had been in that situation, some that stayed, some that went, and talked about, "Hey, I regretted it," or "No, I did the right thing, I left early." So I formed kind of a pros and cons list. I like to write things down. I'm kind of a note-taker. I think writing things down creates that blueprint that guides you through the ups and downs of life, and I just made my decision. As soon as I make it, the one thing I do believe, I think it's up to you to make it the right decision after you make it. To say, "I made the right decision," right when you make it, how do you really know? You don't even ask that question. You say, "I'm going to make it the right decision," by going out and doing it and working hard and not looking back and not second-guessing yourself.

My senior year in college was great. Very rewarding, great memories, friendships that kind of solidified during that senior year. I stayed injury-free. That was probably the biggest question at times. I just don't ask that question. If you think about that and play that way, that's when you get hurt. I just didn't want to be 50 years old and then wonder what my senior year in college would have been like. That was the ultimate factor, I think.

If a young person comes to you and says, "Mr. Manning, I want to grow up and do what you've done," what advice do you give them?

Peyton Manning: I tell them to work hard. I tell them to dream big and set goals. I believe in writing out your goals and working hard to accomplish those goals, and to keep dreaming. I tell them to have fun. I tell them they need to enjoy trying to accomplish that goal. If it's a really young kid, an eight- or ten-year-old, I tell them that I didn't know I was going to be a football player when I was that age. I tell them to do everything. Play football, play basketball, play baseball, be in the school play or participate in some sort of community activity, live it up. I wish them the best of luck. I pull for them.

I hear about kids that worked as hard as they possibly could, and didn't get to achieve their goal. I'm disappointed right there with them. I feel for them, but you learn from it, and it does make you stronger, and then you figure out that maybe this wasn't in the cards for me. I'm going to find a way to do something else and maybe even be more successful at it. That's what life's all about.

This is a question you might be tired of hearing, but there isn't anybody out there who doesn't want to know what you talk about in the huddle.

Peyton Manning: I can't tell you everything that they say in the huddle. No. But people ask that question often, and I always say, "Yeah, there's women and children in the room. I can't give you the complete answer." For me, 95 percent of it is football jargon. It goes back to that clock thing, that time. I'm always checking that clock. I'm going, "There's not enough time. There's not enough time to get all of this." Because we call a lot of our plays at the line of scrimmage, we change a lot of the plays, and I need time. That time is my friend. That clock is my friend, and I like it when it says 35 seconds. When it says three or four seconds, that's a bad thing. I don't have enough time to get what I want to get done. I think less is best in the huddle. You've got ten guys out there that have very different ranges of attention spans. You've probably got five seconds where you are going to have all of them. You better say what you want to say in that moment. To give a long one in the huddle, or to give a long one in the locker room before the game, you're going to lose a lot of guys early.

The last one I gave, kind of...

The first play of the Super Bowl, when we huddled out there on the field, I just said, "Guys, we're playing for a lot of people tonight. We're playing for our families. We're playing for our hometowns, your high school coaches, you name it." I said, "Most importantly, let's play for each other. Let's play for each other tonight, and let's have fun. Let's work hard, and let's bring this championship back home."

Peyton Manning Interview Photo
I didn't think a lot about it. I didn't plan for that. There's no notes in the huddle. That's speaking from the heart, I guess you'd say. I think once you say something like that at the beginning, there's not much more to say.

You go out and do your job, but the thing is, you have to understand that these guys are going to know the situation. To get in there, I think sometimes there is wasted talk, "Hey guys, we really need this one right here." Well, if it's fourth and five, and there's five seconds left on the clock, I think it's pretty obvious that you need this one. So you better save yourself, saving your breath or talking about the specific football play. I've been miked up for games before. I think everybody is looking for this super motivational line somewhere in the huddle. You're probably not going to get that from me. You're going to get more football jargon from me. I think less is best, and try to say things that are meaningful.

Can you tell us what this means? "Deuce right, waggle 15, H throwback, Z post."

Peyton Manning: Z post, deuce right. Deuce, we have D's or 2-by-2's, and T's are 3-by-1's. So deuce is "receiver, tight end, tight end, receiver." So it's deuce, it's an even set. Right tells the tight end, the Y, where to go. So "deuce right" means "the tight end is here," and the H is here. And then, what is it? Waggle 15? Fifteen is the handoff. It would be the handoff play to the left. "Waggle" is a form of a fake handoff. So "waggle" means we're going to fake the handoff of a 15 play. I'm going to fake it. I'm going to kind of roll back to the right. "Waggle" also tells the offensive line, the protection, they're blocking "waggle protection." Now where "waggle" came from? No idea. It's been in football systems for years, so I don't really know the origin of that word. "H throwback": H is that guy, that tight end on the left. He's running the throwback route, in which he's going to go over and then go back. So I'm going to roll to the right, and I'm going to try to throw it to the H, kind of going over and back. Throwback.

And what was it? Z post? The Z is on your right. So you're going to go, "Deuce right, waggle 15, H throwback, Z post." You're going to fake, "waggle 15." You're going to roll right. You're going to check your H on the throwback. He's not there. You have to throw the Z on the post. He's running a 40-yard post.

How many plays do you have going into a game?

Peyton Manning: We're kind of unique in that. Our whole offense is in, every week.

Our coach tells us, "You need to know this whole book. I may call something in December that we haven't run since three years ago. So it's up to you to know it." Really, you'd have to say it's over a thousand, only because you can run every single play out of every single formation. That might change it just a little bit, so that multiplies the number of plays. So it's a thousand, a thousand plus. You end up running a lot of the same plays over and over again at each game, but you better be prepared for him to dial up something that he hadn't dialed up in about five years or so.

So everybody in that huddle knows what you're talking about?

Peyton Manning: Not necessarily.

I hear the play first, and I'm going to call it, and nobody is leaving that huddle until I know that they know what to do. There's nothing worse than you not knowing what to do, or knowing somebody else doesn't know what to do. That's not a good thing. Put it this way. We act like we're real sophisticated in the NFL. There's a lot of times when I just say, "Hey, you block him. You get open," like you're playing back at recess or in the playground. It turns into street ball. We just act like it's real sophisticated with "deuce right, waggle 15" terminology. It still comes down to, "Block him. Tackle him. Get open, I'll throw it to you. Let's go score."

You've been great.

Peyton Manning: Thanks.

We appreciate it.

Peyton Manning: I appreciate it. You're welcome. Thank you very much.




This page last revised on May 05, 2008 15:46 EDT