Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was named Sports Illustrated's 2013 Sportsman of the Year this week. The article covering the selection, written by SI Senior Writer Lee Jenkins, is immersive - I got completely lost in the world of Peyton Manning, as portrayed by Jenkins, and as communicated to him by the dozens of people with whom he spoke to pen the piece.
Here are my favorite parts from getting lost in that world; I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety here.
Manning once let (Colts trainer Brian) Seabrooks watch film with him. "He ran the same play back and forth for 30 minutes," Seabrooks recalls. "By the time he got to the end of it, I was asleep. I never found out if it was a run or a pass."
Earlier in the story, Jenkins details Manning's ascension in college and the NFL. Whether it was installing a Beta player in his home to watch practice or hand-picking game footballs based on throws to his trainers, Manning has been the epitome of work ethic throughout his career.
The Peyton Baby Boom
(Page 1) It was barely after Manning and the Tennessee Volunteers beat Alabama in his sophomore season that the first name "Peyton" began thriving across Tennessee. It is amazing the faith people had placed in Manning even then.
Growing stronger throughout the 2012 season
(Page 3) The 2013 season might be taking its toll on Manning, but in 2012, that wasn't the case.
They (the Broncos training staff) focused on exercises to restore his body control, including one called "dead bug," in which Manning lay on a roller, simultaneously extending his left arm and right leg, then his right arm and left leg, with weights attached to his wrists and ankles. "The first time, he couldn't hold it," says head trainer Steve (Greek) Antonopulos. "Remember, this was a neurological injury. It affected everything." Manning's physical therapy continued through the season, but Denver still went 13-3. Most players lose strength over a 16‑game schedule, yet in the week before the Broncos faced the Ravens in the divisional round, Manning set personal bests for squats, dumbbell presses and medicine-ball throws.
Begging to stay in Indianapolis
(Page 3) You can tell his departure from the Colts cut Manning deep.
Four days later the Colts -- who had the first pick in the draft and were eyeing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck -- cut him. "I think it broke his heart," Archie says. "I think he understood the reality [was], It's time for me to go. And then I think he reconsidered and said, 'No, I'm supposed to play my whole career here.' So he went back and told them, 'I'll help Andrew, and we'll make it work. I want to stay.' "
Yet he here is, working hard, as a Denver Bronco.
The power of the handwritten note, or phone call
(Page 4) The anecdote about Manning's belief in the handwritten note has been covered before, but hearing from the swell of people who have received such correspondence from Manning only fortified the impact for me. Manning writes back to those suffering injuries. He comforts those in mourning with mentions of scripture. He will even pick up the phone and call people undergoing neck procedures, asking Steve "Greek" Antonopulus for advice about doctors in that person's area. "If someone is from Texas, he will give me a doctor in Dallas," said Manning.
It was inspiring enough for me to set a goal this coming year: to write a handwritten note to everyone I care about. I hope it starts a trend in my life the way it has Peyton's.
The breadcrumbs of Manning's arrival in Denver
(Page 3) From throwing passes to Rockies first baseman and college teammate Todd Helton, to simulating the 2010 Colts-Jets AFC Championship game with former teammates including wide receiver Brandon Stokley, there are hints that Manning's path might lead him to Denver throughout Jenkins' story as he details his rehabilitation. Manning's disability was grueling, his path back to health moreso. It's easy to infer the influence of these people, who were in Denver at the time of Manning's rehab, helped Manning choose to make his first free agent visit in the Mile High City.
"We signed a Hall of Famer with a chip on his shoulder," John Elway said.
Thank you John Elway, and thank you Peyton Manning.
Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning named SI's Sportsman of the Year [Sports Illustrated]