I fell in love with football during my college years. Coincidentally, it was also during my college years that I first met Peyton Manning.
Oh, it isn’t like we’re friends or anything. I doubt he would remember my name if you asked him. But I did run into him a few times over my years of covering news.
He is a generous man, kind and polite, and he’s funny. The many things he does for charity, you likely don’t often hear about. He has helped many, many people and has never asked for credit.
During his days at the University of Tennessee, you could see that he had skills and promise. Next thing you know, he was the quarterback for my home team, the Indianapolis Colts.
He developed those skills over time, and my love of the game also developed. I enjoy the intricacies of football, the designs of the plays, the finesse that is sometimes required. I love the cheering, the face painting, the roar of the crowd. I don’t love how dangerous the game has gotten, and I have great disdain for those players who seem intent on hurting others and who even appear to enjoy it. That certainly isn’t what football is supposed to be about.
My friends know something of my great love of The Sheriff, who retired earlier this year after playing 18 seasons in the National Football League and winning a second Super Bowl ring.
And I watched each of those seasons, cheering on Peyton and the Colts from whatever state I was living at the time. I clearly remember “watching” games with my dad over the telephone from my living room and from various sports bars after I had given up watching television in 2008. We would call each other back and forth throughout games to yell, “Did you see that pass?” or “Can you believe they scored again?”
We were on the phone (me in a hotel bar outside Seattle, my dad at home in Indiana) on Feb. 4, 2007, when Peyton and the Colts won Super Bowl XLI, Peyton’s first Super Bowl win. I cried. And my dad sounded emotional, too, as we cheered and shouted across the miles during the last minutes of the game and the first few minutes after the game.
I wept when Peyton was injured and had to sit out an entire season. I cried again when I learned that he would be leaving the Colts, who I felt treated him unfairly in his waning years. My dad and I have never agreed on that, so we just don’t talk about it.
I “followed” Peyton to the Denver Broncos and they became my team for the next few years. I cheered mightily when he won his fifth Most Valuable Player award in his second year with them in 2013. (Among his many accolades, he was the first, and so far only, player to win five MVP awards in the NFL.) I still feel bitter about how the Colts treated Peyton and will likely not cheer for them again.
I have screamed myself hoarse at actual games, and possibly been too rowdy in a number of public places where I watched “my” Peyton play.
When the Seattle Seahawks drubbed the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, I was in a sports bar outside Seattle, the lone person wearing an orange No. 18 jersey in a sea of blue and green. I was horrified by Peyton’s performance and the results of the game. I sat silently with tears streaming down my face at the end.
And although we were cheering for opposing teams, others in the bar respected my love of the game, my quarterback and my team. A woman who sat beside me during the game, an obvious Seahawks fan, went across the street to the Mrs. Fields after the game and brought me fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies to ease my heartache. I will always remember that moment – one fan truly caring for another no matter that we supported opposite teams.
But I am having a problem watching football this season. I can’t seem to muster any passion for the games. Gone, at least for now, is the trash talking, the shouting at the screen, the standing up and sitting down from the couch while my dad sits in his recliner nearby. This is the second season in which we can finally watch together in the same location, but I find I can’t pay attention during the games, and I feel like there is no team left for which to cheer. I long to hear the familiar call of “Omaha!” just one more time.
Did I love the game all those years or did I love Peyton? I guess time will tell.