Manning exudes class, on the field and off

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Peyton Manning sneers questions with Keith Jackson at the 2012-2013 All Arkansas Preps Awards Banquet June 1, 2013 at the State Convention Center.
Photo by Melissa Gerrits
Peyton Manning sneers questions with Keith Jackson at the 2012-2013 All Arkansas Preps Awards Banquet June 1, 2013 at the State Convention Center.

He wasn’t exactly what was expected.

Peyton Manning was tall, poised and looked like a NFL star, but he acted like a guy raised by a good family.

Manning was in Little Rock last June for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s first All-Arkansas Preps banquet to help honor more than 300 high school athletes, male and female, from almost every sanctioned sport.

As expected he had some requirements to ensure his privacy and there had to be limited interviews and mingling time.

Yet, during the reception before the banquet, he graciously posed for pictures, signed autographs and when yours truly approached - his glance at my badge that said“Sports Editor” almost went unnoticed - and we stepped into the photographer’s range, Manning said: “Thanks for inviting me.”

When the reception ended he met with the master of ceremonies, Keith Jackson, to prepare for his talk, which was a Q&A. He was supposed to have a small window for a personal interview, but he apologized and said he needed a few more minutes with Jackson.

I left. It was almost time for the dinner to start.

Later, Jackson told me Manning was surprised I didn’t wait (we would have had only five minutes and no way I was going to make him late for the banquet) and he hoped I wasn’t mad.

I wasn’t. I understood, and Jackson told him that.

Now, fast forward and Manning, 37, is preparing for his third Super Bowl after a record-setting season with the Denver Broncos. Manning set a single-season record for touchdown passes with 55 and edged closer to setting the NFL’s all-time record for touchdown passes.

All season Manning had been coy about his future, talking about the light at the end of the tunnel, but Sunday when asked about his future,he said he hoped to play in 2014.

There is some concern about his neck, which will be X-rayed after the season.

Manning hasn’t complained about pain, but apparently there is some concern about the neck injury that forced him to miss the 2011 season. He had two neck surgeries, and because of the NFL lockout he couldn’t use the Indianapolis Colts training facilities.

He went to Denver and worked with the Colorado Rockies trainers.

After missing the entire season he was released with four years remaining on his contract, but the day it was announced he was being released Colts owner Jim Irsay said no Colt would ever wear Manning’s No. 18 again.

Manning. who will be 38 on March 24, signed a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos and former Bronco Frank Tripucka, who had No. 18 retired, gave Manning permission to wear his old number.

Manning has led the Broncos to consecutive 13-victory seasons and on Sunday faces the Seattle Seahawks, who possess the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Manning’s abilities and talents, combined with hard work - he starts watching film in March of each year - have made him one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, if not the best.

In that one night in Little Rock last summer, though, he left a deep impression of being a family man, who talks weekly during the season to his younger brother Eli, quarterback for the New York Giants, but admitted that he hates playing against him.

His father, Archie, who played for Ole Miss and the New Orleans Saints, was in town but upon mutual agreement they didn’t talk about that, choosing to enjoy some private time together.

He was entertaining and enlightening that night and most people there declared it the best first-time event they ever attended.

Manning was a winner that night, too.

Sports, Pages 15 on 01/28/2014