Monthly Archives: March 2012
Today I woke up smiling for the first time in two weeks because yesterday marked the conclusion of a process that in some aspects felt like it lasted longer than this past NFL season. A gamut of emotions swirled during that time as the uncertainty of where Peyton would land grew more frustrating by the minute. I knew the time he took was necessary. He is meticulous with his decisions because he doesn’t want to make the wrong one. He doesn’t want to have regrets. I get that, but it was still frustrating. Of course I never once thought NO ONE would want him. That’s just silly, but patience is not my virtue and just gives my wandering mind more time to come up with horrible scenarios about his future. Sure the questions came from various friends, acquaintances, and co-workers about where I wanted him to end up, and again I did my best to answer them without giving a concrete answer on what I was hoping for. I had selfish reasons for not publicizing my opinions. I knew that if I publicized my choice and it didn’t happen that it would be that much harder to accept, and I didn’t want to add to the emotion unnecessarily. So here it is…staring at the future in Mile High Stadium, and the only way I could be happier is if Peyton was still a Colt. Understand that it’s going to be a very long time, if ever, before I can talk completely and fully about what happened on March 8th because every time I start to talk about it, I get emotional, again. I seem to not have as much trouble talking about the future though because at least that seems promising. But how did we get here, and what has been running through my head in the last two weeks?
When Peyton said this free agency process was all new to him, well it was new to me, too. I’ve never been through the free agency process with a player I followed this closely…let’s be honest…I’ve never followed a player this closely, period. When speculation first started months ago, I originally warmed to Arizona mainly because I thought the match up with Larry Fitzgerald would be a perfect fit. Plus their franchise seemed the most palatable. Flash forward to the beginning of Peyton’s free agency tour. A rumored listed of possible teams was released. It included, in no particular order: the Jets, the Chiefs, the Seahawks, the Redskins, the Dolphins, the Cardinals, the Broncos, the 49ers, and the Titans. Everything from blank checks being tossed on the table to ownership offers were released from various “sources,” and this is where I started to get scared and worried that he’d end up somewhere that I would absolutely hate. Of course, I knew I had no control over this. It was nobody’s decision but his, but I desperately wanted to still be his fan to the end. I knew in the end he would make the right decision and I would support it no matter what, but that didn’t keep me from hoping for my choice to be his choice. So, let’s go through that list.
- The Jets ~ At one time in my life, I was a Jets fan but only because a guy from my hometown was their kicker. With the addition of Rex Ryan as their head coach, any appreciation I had for that franchise went severely in a negative direction. So this team fell into the “God Help Me…Not On Your Life” category. I also knew that Peyton wouldn’t want to be in the same city as Eli. NY is Eli’s town and he deserves to have that.
- The Chiefs ~ This one was palatable. I’ve never had a problem with them. In fact, I pretty much respect the heck out of their franchise. The number of Alabama players they’ve had play for them over the last several years didn’t hurt either. However, I didn’t think the pieces were in place for them to make a run to the Super Bowl with Peyton. So this team fell into the “I Can Make This Work If I Have To” category. The Chiefs were one of the rumored “blank check” offers, but from what I hear were quickly told that Peyton wasn’t interested.
- The Seahawks ~ I used to respect this franchise a great deal when Shaun Alexander played for them. In recent years, not so much. Throw in that I’m not a fan of Pete Carroll and that their team is not in a position to either protect Peyton in the pocket nor are they prepared to win a Super Bowl, and it lands them in the “Not A Good Fit…I Hope You See It Too” category. Rumors of a $30M signing bonus surfaced and the Seahawks even flew to Denver when Peyton was there for his visit with the Broncos, but Peyton refused to meet with him. Peyton doesn’t like to be bombarded. He doesn’t like a circus…well…a circus more than the one that already follows him. He doesn’t like to be pushed or told what to do, either. So as I sat back and watched I could see certain teams drowning in their own grand gestures.
- The Redskins ~ I could spend the rest of this blog explaining why this was not a good idea both in franchise and in football terms, but rather than do that let’s just say they fell into a hybrid category of the “God Help Me…Not On Your Life” category that I like to call “Hell No…Over My Dead Body.” I also knew he wasn’t interested in playing in the same division as Eli where he’d have to play him twice a year. That is Eli’s division and Peyton wasn’t going to mess with that. So, the Redskins moved on and traded the world to the Rams to move up to the #2 overall pick presumably to take RGIII.
- The Dolphins ~ This was the second team I warmed to after Arizona. Though I grew up in a Tampa Bay Bucs household, the Dolphins weren’t an awful franchise. What concerned me was the pieces they had in place to support Peyton. I mean this was a team that was fighting for ownership of the #1 draft pick with the Colts for a good part of last season. And while I believe the Colts are much better than their record and that the Dolphins probably are, too, I still in my mind need him to go to a team that can protect his almost 36-year-old body. In the end, I let them fall into the “I Can Make This Work If I Have To” category. Turns out the Dolphins didn’t make the cut for the top 3.
- The Cardinals ~ I already stated the reasons I liked this possibility, but after further review, their ability to protect Peyton came into question. I need an O-line that understands the value of the commodity standing behind them. It can’t be a team that thinks, “oh hey we’ve got Peyton. He’ll make everything better and I just have to sit back and watch it happen.” No…you have to work and work hard. So, in the end they fell into the “Not A Good Fit…I Hope You See It Too” category. Turns out that the visit was the polar opposite of what Peyton wanted to see when he visited teams, so I was starting to think maybe we were on the same wavelength.
- The Titans ~ This one scared me more than any other team on this list. As a Colts fan, there are certain things that come with the territory: understanding that the people of Baltimore will always despise you, Johnny Unitas is to be revered, and the Patriots and the Titans are always to be hated no matter what. They easily fell into the “Hell No…Over My Dead Body” category. I’m not gonna lie. The evil part of me relished the idea of Peyton getting to play the Colts (for revenge) twice a year, but that’s not what this process was about. It was about finding the place where Peyton could continue and extend his career. Bud Adams, the owner of the Titans, laid out a pretty hefty offer and in his favor was the state of Tennessee where Peyton played college ball and where his wife Ashley is from. That’s why it scared me. That hometown feel was a big pull and it was a ready-made fan base of people who adore him. But even Bud Adams couldn’t stop himself from creating a circus. The Tennessee Legislature passed a resolution in support of Peyton’s signing. Bud Adams offered to give him part ownership of the team to be carried out after his retirement, which actually needs unanimous consent from all 32 teams in the NFL. It seems to me that the circus of it all and Bud Adams basically dictating the next 10 years or more of his life is what killed the option in the end. Peyton’s trying to make a decision for the next 3-5 years of his life…not for the rest of his life.
- The 49ers ~ This was the team that everyone said should be interested but kept saying they wanted no part of it. Then about 4 or 5 days ago we find out that he did actually work out for them and that they were interested. From a football standpoint, this team had all the pieces in place. They just needed the elite quarterback. I was thoroughly enthralled with them. On the surface, it was all tied up in a nice bow, so even I had to wonder if it was too good to be true. I also felt a little pain for Alex Smith. I’ve always believed his injuries and the revolving door of offensive coordinators he’s been through during his NFL career ruined how good he could’ve been. I’ve always thought he was a much better QB than his circumstances, and I felt like he deserved a fairer shake than being pushed out by Peyton Manning. They still landed in my top 2. I could see myself pulling for the 49ers and fully believing in them. I thought that their ability to keep quiet their interest and Peyton’s workout with them actually worked in their favor because Peyton sees things like that as a strength.
- The Broncos ~ And then there was 1. Many years ago I considered being a Broncos fan, and then I got my heart broken for reasons that had nothing to do with the team but nonetheless separated me from that possibility. So, I didn’t immediately warm to this idea. I was far from a John Elway fan ever in my life, but even I could appreciate the audacity he had to wait all that time and then win two Super Bowls to close out his career. How dare he save the best for last. 🙂 This was the first visit Peyton took because of his friendship with John Elway. And even still I couldn’t tell if he was just comfortable with his friend or if he was truly comfortable there. He was certainly happier than he’d been in the days prior to his visit. So, I began to look at what they could offer. I liked the O-line. The defense was good enough to keep the team competitive in a lot of their games last season, and of course I know the kicker can hit from 50+ yards. I knew the fan base was strong and supportive of their team. I knew Denver was a great city, and I knew that Pat Bowlen was a great owner. I was sold, but now I needed to get Peyton on board.
Over the years, I’ve learned who my sources are…who I can trust to give me the information that I can bank on. I studied those sources constantly over the last two weeks. After that first weekend of visits, before the Titans reared their ugly heads, my source basically said that unless the sky falls, the choice is Denver. But after the 8 hour visit with the Titans that same source said that this could be the sky falling because he started to waffle about the decision he thought he’d already made. I stayed the course though. I hung on every word and hoped upon hope that in the end he’d realize his original choice was original for a reason. Then Monday came and I got out of my weekly staff meeting to find Twitter blowing up with reports that he’d chosen Denver.
By now, we all know the story. He woke up Monday morning and just knew in his gut Denver was it. He called the Titans and 49ers first to tell them he wasn’t coming and then he called the Broncos to say he’d like to join their team. We’ve seen the breakdown of the very generous (to both sides) and practical (with respect to the injuries) contract. We’ve seen him stand before the Denver media and explain himself in Peyton Speak no less (if you need anything translated, let me know). But there was one thing that struck me and told me that this was the right decision. He mentioned that he knew there would be a lot of analysis about whether he’d chosen the right team, and his response wasn’t that people should trust him or that this that or the other was the reason why it was the right choice. He simply said that it was now his job to go out and work as hard as he could to MAKE this the right decision. Making that phone call to say he wanted to join the Broncos isn’t the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. He won’t be outworked. He won’t be out prepared. Because remember no one loves his job more than Peyton does. Peyton even got me to like John Elway who, interestingly enough, is funnier than I ever imagined he was. John said at the introductory press conference that his goal was to take what Peyton had already given the NFL and add to it and to make sure Peyton retired as the best QB to ever play the game. Now how on earth could I possibly hate a guy who makes THAT his goal. Denver is excited to have Peyton, and when this whole process started, all I really wanted was for him to go somewhere that appreciated him the way he deserved to be appreciated.
I think he found it somewhere among the Rocky Mountains.
I didn’t grow up a baseball fan. Willie Mays retired from the sport following the 1973 season and ended any lengthy discussion about baseball in my mother’s house. In one corner of my parents’ den, just behind the chair my mother usually sits in, hangs a collection of Willie Mays memorabilia. This collection was the extent of my baseball education growing up. The discontinuing of her interest in baseball wasn’t because my mother hated the sport. On the contrary, she loves it but has only recently started watching, again. For her, the pure passion and joy of watching a game held its magic in Willie Mays’s bat and glove, and once he retired, Major League Baseball just wasn’t the same.
Peyton Manning is my Willie Mays.
Eighteen years ago, I fell in love with a gawky 18-year-old whose face hadn’t quite caught up with his nose, whose southern drawl was so thick I was one of the few people in the world who understood him for many years, and whose football abilities made him one of the most highly sought after quarterbacks in the country. He chose the University of Tennessee much to the chagrin of fans and alums of the University of Mississippi (his parents’ alma mater), but it was a decision that made sense. He was not destined for the ordinary life or follow the leader decisions. To say I could tell he was going to be as great as he has been when he was just 18 years old would be insane, but I can tell you that the same competitive desire and passion for perfection that we’ve learned from him was already there all those years ago. The question was whether that desire and passion would translate into a football career beyond our wildest imaginations. And did it ever!
I was a 15-year-old high school girl who found athletes cute before I noticed their talent. I wasn’t a sports fanatic at that point. I watched sports because that’s what the rest of my family did. I had no choice…until Peyton Manning hit my radar. He taught me football. More than that, he taught me to love football…to purely LOVE football. He did that by loving his job. His pure love of the game and love of playing that game overflows from him so much so that you can’t help but get excited to watch him and learn from him and love what he loves.
Today, a chapter in his remarkable career came to a close with these words from Colts Owner Jim Irsay: “Well, we’re here to announce the conclusion of Peyton’s playing career with the Colts.” Those are words I never expected to hear until the day Peyton decided his complete playing career was over, but as Peyton and Jim will tell you, “circumstances” dictated a different story. The future is uncertain, but it’s here whether we’re ready for it or not, and Peyton will be wearing a different jersey come September. As emotionally spent as I am right now after sobbing uncontrollably at my desk during the press conference, I don’t think it will truly sink in until I see him with his new team.
I know Peyton won’t play forever. I know he’s not dead. I know he’s not retired. But I did believe and hope, as he has always hoped, that as long as he did play, he would play for the Colts. That’s why this is sad. All the “business decision” statements don’t help. In fact, it makes it hurt more because for the last 14 years it’s been personal and not business. It’s been relationship based not about the bottom line. A person doesn’t break down emotionally about having to say good-bye to equipment managers if it’s just a business. So, when the rules get changed sadness and emotion sets in because it’s not what you’ve known for almost a decade and a half. I also understand that there are a million more important things going on in the world that deserve my attention, but as hard as it was for Peyton to get through his speech without fighting back tears and his voice cracking, I can’t ignore how I feel about this, either. He said to the fans, “Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.” What he doesn’t understand (or maybe he does…I hope he does) is that the enjoyment and privilege has been all ours.
So where do “we” go from here? Where is Peyton going to take my fandom next? I won’t stop watching football as my mother did with baseball. The love and passion for the game that Peyton taught me doesn’t allow for such things. But, I do know it will be very surreal, and eventually I will come to accept the next chapter. As Tom Hanks said in Sleepless in Seattle, “I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.”
Eighteen years ago, I chose to become a fan of someone who had the potential to be one of the greatest football players ever, and this player/fan relationship has been one of the most rewarding of my entire life. Not everyone has it as easy as I have or been as blessed as I have been. A player like Peyton Manning comes along once, maybe twice, in a lifetime, and we get to be the lucky beneficiaries of that history making. That said, I knew if he became one of the greats, I wouldn’t want it to end in disgrace or drama. But I also know I never expected it would be as good as it has been.
Thank you, Peyton Manning, for helping me fall in love with the game of football. Welcome to your future. May it be as bright and successful as the previous chapter.
“Thank you, Jim.
“I sure have loved playing football for the Indianapolis Colts. For 14 wonderful years, the only professional football I’ve known is Colts football. Our team won a lot of games here, I’ve played with so many great teammates here and I’ve been part of a great organization here, an organization and an owner who I respect and continue to respect.
“I’ve been a Colt for almost all my adult life. But I guess in life and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever. (Pause, voice cracks …) Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.
“Jim and I have spoken extensively about where we are today and our conversations have led both of us to recognize that our circumstances make it best to take the next step. This has not been easy for Jim and it certainly has not been easy for me. Jim, along with Bill Polian, drafted me 14 years ago. Jim and I have always been close. We made a lot of great memories together. He’s always been good to me. And Jim, I will forever be grateful.
“This town and this team mean so much to me. (Long pause, emotion.) It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. (Voice cracks) I do love it here. (Voice cracking throughout) I love the fans and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team. I will leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude, to Jim, the organization, my teammates, the media and especially the fans.
“I haven’t thought yet about where I’ll play, but I have thought a lot about where I’ve been. And I’ve truly been blessed. (Voice cracking.) I’ve been blessed to play here. I’ve been blessed to be in the NFL.
“And as I go, I go with just a few words left to say, a few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback. (Voice cracking, then trails off.) Thank you.”
Today is this man’s 50th birthday, and I’m pretty sure a lot of us would beg to look as good as he does. However, if you choose to believe that this man’s contribution to the world lies only in his rugged good looks, then you have merely scratched the surface of who he truly is. You see, he’s spent the last almost 30 years of his life trying to prove to the world that he’s more than just a pretty face. For nearly 23 years, he’s been Dorothea’s husband…his high school sweetheart. If you ask him how he’s stayed married given the life of a rock star, he’ll tell you he got lucky on the first try and that nothing that would break up his marriage is worth doing to lose the greatness he already has. He is father to Stephanie Rose, Jesse James Louis, Jacob Hurley, and Romeo Jon, but “family man” is only one hat he wears.
He’s been the CEO of one of the most lucrative rock bands in the history of the music industry for more than 20 years. He’s not the CEO in name only, either. He actually runs that organization like a Fortune 500 company. His Island Records contract is only between Jon and the record company. Richie, Tico, Dave, and the other band members are employed by Jon Bon Jovi Enterprises. And before you start to think how self-centered that sounds, Richie, Tico, and Dave aren’t complaining about being millionaires any day of their lives.
But beyond the music, he has been a philanthropist in big ways and small ways but almost always in quiet ways. He purchased a controlling interest in the Philadelphia Soul Arena Football League team with its main goal being to give back to the community rather than win championships. His Soul Foundation revitalized some of the most financially devastated areas of Philadelphia and continues to do so. Oh, and they did just happen to win the Arena Football League Championship. After Hurricane Katrina, Jon and the band gave enough money to Oprah’s Angel Network to build an entire street (aptly named Bon Jovi Blvd.) worth of houses in Gray, Louisiana including a neighborhood park for the kids. More recently, he has parlayed his desire to do more good than bad into a venture called the Soul Kitchen: “A community restaurant with no prices on the menu; customers donate to pay for their meal. If you are unable to donate you may do volunteer work in exchange for your family’s meal.”
All of that, and he’s a pretty darn good singer and musician, too.
For more than half his life, he’s been telling our stories. Our loves. Our losses. Our failures. Our triumphs. Our convictions. Our anger. He’s most likely a part of any and every night of karaoke. His songs have been a pipeline to our soul, so much so that he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2009. And I continue to hold out hope that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will one day come to their senses and induct him there, too.
That’s quite a punch he’s packed into his first 50 years on this earth, but if his track record is any indication, he’s just gettin’ started, and the next 50 years are gonna be one heck of a ride.
Happy Birthday, John Francis Bongiovi, Jr. You’ll always be more than a pretty face with great hair to me. Remember, you’re not old…Just Older.