Peyton Manning, starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, may be on his way to becoming America's favorite male sports star. For years that honor was held by basketball legend Michael Jordan (1963–). But a January 2005 Harris poll surveyed American adults and found Peyton Manning nipping at Jordan's heels in the number-two spot. Sports analysts credited Manning's rise in popularity to his amazing performance during the 2004 football season. The six-foot-five quarterback broke several major National Football League (NFL) records, including most touchdown passes in a single season. As a result, Manning was honored with a slew of awards, including the NFL's Most Valuable Player prize for the second year in a row. In addition to being lauded for his abilities on the gridiron, Manning received numerous awards for his generous giving spirit. In April 2005 he was presented with the Byron "Whizzer" White Award, which, according to its official Web site, is given annually to the NFL player who "best personifies the spirit of service to team, community and country.
Peyton Manning was born on March 24, 1976, in New Orleans, Louisiana, the middle son of Archie (1949–) and Olivia Peyton. Peyton's father, Archie, was a celebrated football star, playing quarterback in college for the University of Mississippi and for various NFL teams during the 1970s and early 1980s, including the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. The elder Peyton went on to become a radio sports announcer for the Saints. When they were young, Manning and his brothers, Eli (1981–) and Cooper (c. 1974–), enjoyed tagging along with their father when the Saints were in town practicing during the off season. Sometimes the players and renowned coach Jim Mora (1935–) would even let the boys toss the ball around on the field.
While attending Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, Peyton participated in a variety of sports. He was on the basketball team for two years and played shortstop on the baseball team. But football was his true passion—a passion he credits his father for instilling in him. Manning, however, is quick to note in interviews that Archie never pushed him into the sport. As he explained on his official Web site, "It was a policy in the house growing up, [Dad] would help us out and be glad to play catch with us ... but we had to go to him for help. He wasn't going to come to us and say, 'All right, you do this, you do that."'
Manning honed his skills by practicing with his brothers and neighborhood friends. He also spent hours listening to and
"I think that's why I have a love for football still today, because it was fun for me as a kid."
studying tapes of his father's old college and professional football games. By the time he was a sophomore at Isidore Newman, Manning was talented enough to be the starting quarterback; that same year his older brother, Cooper, was the team's wide receiver. The Manning boys became an inseparable pair both on the field and off, and worked so well together that the duo took their team all the way to the state Class 2A semifinals. Following his senior year Cooper accepted a scholarship to attend the college where his father played—the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss. Unfortunately, during Cooper's freshman year, doctors discovered a spinal weakness, which caused a numbness in his legs and forced him to abandon his football career.
During his years at Isidore Newman, Manning was the undisputed star of the team and ended up with impressive statistics: He passed for 7,207 yards and completed 59.4 percent of his passes with 92 touchdowns. As a senior he was named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and was being scouted by all the top colleges in the United States. A great deal of pressure was put on him by Ole Miss fans and alumni to attend the University of Mississippi, but after much consideration the quarterback decided to head to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to play for the Tennessee Volunteers. As he explained in interviews, he wanted a challenge. At Ole Miss he was already a celebrity before having played a single game. At the University of Tennessee, he would have to prove himself.
Before heading to Knoxville, the ever diligent Manning prepared himself by poring over footage of Volunteer games and studying the team's playbook. During the first part of his freshman year Manning sat on the bench, but he quickly got a chance to share the starting quarterback duties with fellow freshman Brandon Stewart after two of the team's top players were sidelined by injuries. As a starter Manning led the Volunteers to victory in six of the next seven games, which qualified them to play in the Gator Bowl. (The Gator Bowl is an annual competition played between two of the top college football teams; other bowl games include the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl as well as several others.) The Volunteers trounced Virginia Tech in a 45–23 win, and Manning, having thrown for 1,141 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, cemented himself as a core player.
Stewart transferred to Texas A…M University before the beginning of the 1995 season, which left Manning as the sole starting quarterback. With Manning at the helm, the Volunteers made it to the Citrus Bowl in 1995 and 1996 (winning both years), and the Orange Bowl in 1997, where they were defeated by the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Manning rounded out his senior year by leading his team to the Eastern Division Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship in 1997. Colleges that belong to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are divided into three divisions: Division I-A; Division I-AA; and Division II. Within each division colleges are organized by geographic location; the University of Tennessee is part of the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference.
During his four-year Tennessee tenure the star quarterback amassed an impressive array of records. He established thirty-three passing records, becoming the university's all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards, 863 completions, and 89 touchdowns. Manning's accurate throwing arm also helped him set several SEC records in passing yards, pass completions, and completion percentage. In addition, many believed he would be a shoe-in to win the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best college football player in the United States. Manning lost to cornerback Charles Woodson (1976–) of the University of Michigan, but he took home both the Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas awards, which honor the best college quarterbacks in the nation. In early 1998 Manning also nabbed the Sullivan Award, an annual prize given to the best amateur athlete in the United States.
At the University of Tennessee Manning was a communications and business major, and he completed his bachelor's degree requirements in just three years, ending up with a 3.6 grade point average. As a result, he was eligible to graduate at the end of his junior year. The NFL was knocking at his door, but Manning decided to hold off going pro until after his senior year. As he explained on his official Web site, "My college experience was a really good one, so I decided to stay all four years. I just wanted to enjoy being a college senior. For some reason people had a very hard time believing that." The wait paid off, and in 1998 a very mature and poised Manning became the NFL number-one draft pick and was snatched up by the Indianapolis Colts. The coach for the Colts just happened to be old family friend Jim Mora, who had watched a very young Manning toss the ball around back in New Orleans.
The pressure was on Manning his rookie year because the Colts had traded former starting quarterback Jim Harbaugh (1963–) to make room for him on the roster. The team had also paid Manning a top dollar contract: $48 million over six years. The fresh-faced Manning started off slow, but quickly brought his game up to professional speed through perseverance, practice, and his standby method of studying football film footage late into the night before every game. He remarked to Michael Silver of Sports Illustrated, "I've never left the field saying, 'I could have done more to get ready,' and that gives me peace of mind." Over the next few years the starting quarterback also earned the respect and admiration of his fellow players and coaches, both for his easygoing demeanor and his fierce competitiveness. As Colts' coach Tony Dungy (1955–) told Silver, "I've never seen a guy with so much ability and the dedication to match."
Manning's dedication repeatedly paid off for the Colts. Although the team ended the 1998 season with a 3 win, 13 loss record, over the next few years the signal-calling Manning led Indianapolis to the American Football Conference (AFC) division championships five times. The thirty-two football teams that are part of the NFL are divided evenly into two conferences: the AFC and the National Football Conference (NFC). Within each conference, there are four divisions: North, South, East, and West. Out of the five championship games, the Colts took the AFC title three times: in 1999, 2003, and 2004.
By 2005, Manning was also a champion in his own right, having played, according to Michael Silver, "The best football of
According to his brother, Cooper, who spoke with John Bradley of Sports Illustrated, "Peyton's got the potential to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time." Whether or not that is true is yet to be seen. The Colts, however, believed in him: In March 2004 they signed Manning to a $99.2 million, seven-year contract, which included an NFL-record $34.5 million signing bonus. Members of the Associated Press also believed in Manning, naming him the NFL's Most Valuable Player in both 2003 and 2004. Manning is only the third player in history to receive the award two years in a row. In addition, in 2005 the Colts' quarterback took home a number of other top honors, including The Sporting News Player of the Year Award and an ESPY for Best NFL Player. (ESPY awards are awarded to America's top athletes each year by the sports network ESPN.)
For Manning, however, the highest honor may have come in April 2005 when he was given the prestigious Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award, named for Supreme Court Justice and former NFL player Byron White (1917–2002). Established in 1967 by the professional football players of America, the prize acknowledges White's spirit of giving back to the community. "I am truly humbled by this honor," Manning remarked in a press release issued on July 20, 2005, "This means a lot to me because what I do off the field is much more important than anything I do on the field."
Manning's accomplishments off the field were truly impressive. In 1999 he created the PeyBack Foundation, the goal of which, according to Manning's Web site, "is to provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk." As of 2005 the foundation has donated over $900,000 to children's programs in Indiana, Tennessee, and Louisiana. The big-hearted Manning participates personally in the majority of the foundation's initiatives, including Peyton's Pals, which sponsors a series of monthly cultural and educational events for selected Indianapolis middle-schoolers. One of the most high-profile events is the PeyBack Classic, an annual event in which Indiana inner-city high school football players are invited to play ball at the Indianapolis RCA Dome. All proceeds benefit struggling high school sports programs.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Peyton commented, "I would like to leave some kind of unique mark on the game." Given his astonishing number of passing records, his amazing number of awards, and his generosity off the field, the young man who was born into football royalty and who, in 2005, was at the height of his career, already seemed to have left his mark.
Attner, Paul. "Blessed and Obsessed: No One Wants to Translate Regular-season Greatness into Postseason Success More than
In 2004 the Sugar Bowl Committee established the Manning Award, the newest award in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to honor top college quarterbacks. The award was named in honor of three NFL players all from the same family: father Archie Manning (1949–), a former NFL quarterback during the 1970s and early 1980s, and sons Peyton (1976–), quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, and Eli (1981–), quarterback for the New York Giants. The prize will be awarded each year following completion of all bowl games. In 2005, the first recipient of the Manning Award was University of Southern California (USC) quarterback Matt Leinart.
Leinart was born May 11, 1983, in Santa Ana, California. Like Peyton Manning, he distinguished himself early on in football while playing for Mater Dei Catholic High School, where, during his senior year he earned numerous honors, including being named the Gatorade California Player of the Year. Throughout his freshman and sophomore years at USC Leinart was a third-string quarterback and saw little action, but by the end of spring training 2003 he had edged his way into the starting quarterback position. The left-handed passer began as a little-known player, but by the end of his junior year he was one of the most acclaimed quarterbacks in USC history. He established several school passing records and in 2004 snagged a slew of national awards, including the Heisman Trophy, considered by many the most prestigious honor in college football.
Leinart, like Manning, decided to finish college rather than turn professional early. As he explained to Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated, "My decision was seen as something good for college football, a statement to kids to stay in school." Since winning the Heisman, the six-foot-five Leinart traveled around the United States to offer his own unique brand of inspiration. He freely talked about overcoming the medical condition he was born with called strabismus, which means he was born cross-eyed. Leinart had two surgeries to correct the problem: one when he was a little over one year old, the other as a high school freshman. He told Murphy, "I talk about how battling obstacles as a young kid will make you a stronger person."
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