Denver—As a football junkie with a photographic memory, I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with current Denver Broncos signal-caller Peyton Manning and it goes back to the days he wore a different shade of orange.
On September 3, 1994, Tennessee starting quarterback Jerry Colquitt was injured in a 25-23 loss to UCLA and this gave way to Volunteers head coach Phillip Fulmer inserting a highly-regarded freshman quarterback out of New Orleans named Peyton Manning into the game.
Outside of New Orleans, Manning wasn't a celebrity back then and even split snaps with fellow freshman Brandon Stewart throughout the rest of the season, as Colquitt was lost for the year.
By 1995 (I didn't have Direct TV in those days, just the old rabbit-ears television), Manning's celebrity began to rise and I saw it all, as CBS had the SEC contract and Tennessee was more popular in those days than teams such as Alabama or LSU.
As Manning became more popular and I saw him virtually every week, I began to love this guy who was playing for a college team thousands of miles away from my Rocky Mountain home, not only because he wore orange like my beloved Broncos, but because he seemed to be a gentleman who always respected others and honored the game of football.
It was a game I loved but one I could never master, so, like most fans, I looked forward to seeing someone I admired playing better than I ever could. Incidentally, one of my communication professors at Southern Utah University revealed to one of my classes once that he taught Manning at UT-Knoxville.
My professor wasn't a football fan of any renown, so he failed to understand why we were so fascinated by his “revelation,” but this was something that has always made me proud--my connection to greatness.
By 1998, while still loving my Broncos, I had made the commitment to be a lifelong Manning supporter, so I would always hope for the Indianapolis Colts, who had drafted him in the 1998 NFL draft, to do well so long as he played for them (unless it was against the Broncos).
As the years progressed, Manning's band of loyalists began to grow, as this was a man who was not only a lethal weapon on the gridiron but one who was a solid family man and did all he could to establish the city of Indianapolis.
In fact, as numerous Colts fans I've conversed with have told me, Manning is the impetus behind Indianapolis hosting Super Bowl XLVI (46), as he got the entire downtown section of the city modernized through his humanitarian efforts.
Of course, none of these testimonies come from Manning's lips but from those who revere him, as he has never been the glory-hound type. In fast-forwarding to March 20, 2012, or the day that he joined the Denver Broncos, just days before, I was anguished at seeing him released by the Colts, but on this day, I was so exuberant. Peyton Manning was a Denver Bronco.
Now, as he has faced some adversity, such as an injury-ravaged 2014 season, I confirm that Manning is just as ready as ever to win a championship and I put nothing past him.
He is 39 now and has already overcome things that would have caused lesser men to throw in the towel, so I still believe he can lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl title. Nevertheless, even if he fails to do this, he'll have my eternal admiration and is already a greater person off the field than he is a quarterback on it.
For someone who holds the NFL records for passing touchdowns, 300-yard games, 4,000- yard seasons, and will soon be the NFL all-time passing yardage record holder (the all-time North American passing record belongs to CFL legend Anthony Calvillo at 79,816 yards), that is a profound statement.
In any case, Peyton, thanks for being a hero I can look up to even in my adulthood. Broncos Country and I hope you have the best season of your career in 2015.
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