Peyton Manning answers quick questions from Will Hampton during a Marian University function.
INDIANAPOLIS – This is Peyton Manning at 41: He drives his kids to kindergarten. He’s a member of a health club – and not just any member, he wants you to know. He was named member of the month for October.
Of course he was.
Perfect attendance will do that.
“I wake up, put my robe on,” Manning joked, rolling through his various commercial spots. “Lionel Ritchie comes over and I kind of start my day. I make nachos for Eli on Tuesdays.”
That was Manning on Tuesday night – funny when he needed to be, inspirational in other moments, polished throughout – as the Indianapolis Colts icon was honored at Lucas Oil Stadium by Marian University. He was the lone member inducted into the Clayton Family Circle of Honor.
Speaking in a question-and-answer format on stage for roughly 30 minutes, Manning dotted his college days at Tennessee, his 18-year NFL career, his philanthropy in the city he called home for 14 seasons and his life now. He spent Monday night in town at an event for Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.
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What he did not touch on was his future. At just 41 and a year removed from the game, Manning could have just about any job he wants in football. Publicly, he’s been intentionally coy since his retirement about what he might dig into next, though he was contacted by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay last winter about potentially returning to the franchise in a front-office capacity. Whether that ever materializes remains to be seen.
For now, Manning said, he’s enjoying the freedom 18 years in the NFL never allowed. He and wife Ashley traveled to China last fall. He took in Tennessee Vols games and New York Giants games. He returned to Indianapolis for the Colts’ 10-year Super Bowl reunion.
And, yes, he filmed more commercials.
“I apologize,” he told the crowd. “I’ve retired from football but I have not retired from being on your television screen 24/7.”
He went back to his first huddle as a college quarterback, a road game at UCLA. He was a freshman backup for the Volunteers thrust into action after the starter went down.
“All the hair on my arm is standing straight up,” Manning recalled. “And I remembered what my dad told me: ‘Son, if you ever get into the huddle with the starters, you be the leader and you take control of that huddle.’ I remember old dad’s advice. I get in that huddle. I said, ‘All right guys, I know I’m just a freshman, but I can take us down the field right now and get us a touchdown and get us back in this game.’ Big left tackle, about 6-5, 330 pounds, grabs me by the shoulder pads and said, ‘Hey freshman, shut the blank up and call the blanking play.’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ Really great advice from my dad.”
He went back to the anticipation of draft week – the Colts took Manning with the top overall selection 19 years ago Tuesday – and how proud he was to be a part of the team that made Indianapolis a football town.
“Colts fans were looking for a winner, and they were ready to embrace a winner,” he said. “ We kind of created our own history and tradition … it was kind of fun to be a part of that turnaround. I kinda like to say we were competing against basketball and competing against racing. We kind of wanted to become the first priority for fans. It was fun to be a part of that transformation. Suddenly, people were talking about football year-round.”
Seven straight 12-win seasons, eight division championships, two conference titles and a Super Bowl trophy will do that. They don’t call Lucas Oil Stadium The House That Manning Built for nothing.
He talked about what he misses. About what he doesn’t miss.
“I don’t miss the hits,” he said to laughter. “People say, ‘I bet you miss those blindside hits.’ No. I was able to avoid the blindside hits a lot mainly because of you (looking out to the crowd). I’d hear you going ‘Ahhhhh’ and I’d just scoot up. Just scoot up.”
He misses the plane rides after wins. He misses the camaraderie with teammates. He misses the time spent with equipment managers and ballboys and trainers – the behind-the-scenes heroes that helped Manning be Manning.
He elaborated on his leadership philosophies, his love of being coached, his unending desire to be respected by teammates and coaches. “Coaches have been the best leaders I’ve been around,” he said. “Tony Dungy was every bit as good a human being as he was a coach. Treated you like such a professional, like such a grown up, that you just didn’t want to let him down. It was a very effective way of leading. You respected him so much that you played harder for him.”
Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning recalls waiting for the call he would get about his “first real job.” It was part of the Marian University Clayton Circle of Honor Dinner.
Manning proudly pointed out that during his playing days, he and Eli spent a part of every summer training with his old offensive coordinator from Tennessee, current Duke coach David Cutcliffe, honing in on the most basic of fundamentals.
Like: how to take a snap, how to stand in the huddle, how to call a play. High school stuff.
“Don’t think you ever got it all figured out,” he told the crowd, many of which were Marian student-athletes. “Because the little things matter. And if you ever think the little things don’t matter, and you can brush those aside, I promise you in whatever you’re doing, your game’s going to slip.”
(Manning also revealed his chocolate lab – named Colt, of course – recently passed away at the age of 16. “Watched a lot of film with Colt. Good listener,” he said.)
Manning’s interview ended with a rapid-fire session. (He prefers thin crust to pan pizza. He named “Modern Family,” on which he recently guest-starred, his favorite show. His favorite meal to cook? “Cereal,” he said. “A man’s got to know his limitations.”)
“There’s no doubt it’s been a transition,” he said of retirement, which he still seems to be getting the hang of. “It’s been welcomed and something I’ve really enjoyed.”
Call IndyStar reporter Zak Keefer at (317) 444-6134. Follow him on Twitter: @zkeefer.