The title music for NFL Films plays resoundly in my head, evoking memories of the great football heroes of the past. The composer’s name is Sam Spence; I thank Spotify this very moment for that little golden nugget of information. Only last week, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Almost twenty years ago Broncos owner Pat Bowlen exclaimed “This ones for John!” after the underdog Broncos beat the heavily favored Green Bay Packers led by their 1997 young gun, 2016 hall of fame enshrinee Brett Favre. It was Elway’s first win in the big game, fifteen years after his first game. He would win one more the next year, and then retired, at the pinnacle of his sport though clearly not at the top of his game but very much at the top of his fame. Fast forward a couple decades, and Peyton Manning may do the same.
I wrote this on my Facebook wall after the game:
“Congratulations to Peyton Manning, the entire Broncos team and franchise, and all their fans, but most especially my brother Les, the biggest, most diehard Broncomaniac I’ve ever known. When we were kids, new to the country, learning English, we all just picked a team. At 9 years of age, I picked the NINERS. Les, at 8, picked the Broncos, and a couple years later, [my youngest brother] George picked the GMen. We’ve had an amazing 37 years, but 5 NINERS championships, 4 Giants, and 3 Broncos championships later, my brothers and I have had an amazing run. This night in particular belongs to my brother Les. And Peyton Manning, of course.”
My brother Les can come across as a pessimist, but even he I don’t think realizes what a hopeful optimist he really is. It would be 17 years since pledging his allegiance as a little boy, before he would realize his first Denver Broncos championship, suffering horrible losses in 1986, 1987, and 1989 including lopsided defeats to George’s Giants and my NINERS. He took the losses even harder than Elway, but he was always gracious in defeat, congratulating us, and then heading back to root for his team to win it all the following year. He loyally embraced his scrappy, underdog persona, and the football team he felt most closely resembling that persona. I always admired his loyalty in the face of all odds; and of his hopeful nature, that good things were just around the corner.
Then came 1997 beating the Packers, and 1998 beating the Falcons. Fast forward another fifteen years. 2013, which ended in similar fashion to the years of our childhood, losing bad to the Seahawks. Then this past weekend.
“This one’s for Les!”
My mind wandered back to those days growing up playing football with with my brothers and our friends. We had epic pickup games during our college years, that we still talk about. I loved watching my brothers play. Let’s face it. I didn’t have a shred of athletic talent. I think at one time, I was fast, but I think it was only because of the shoes I was wearing. Both my brothers, on the other hand, were good high school football players. While Les was diminutive in size, he more than made up for it with his heart, his strength, his quickness and his form. To this day, his form tackling is among the best I’d ever seen, taking down guys significantly bigger than he was. For a little guy, he was insanely strong; he would have been insanely strong for a big guy too. And he was by far the scrappiest guy on the field. Part of me thinks back then, he took out his disappointment and rage over the Broncos’ losses in the Super Bowl on his own football field.
My brother is all heart.
That’s exactly what I was thinking during those final moments of the game. Of course, while I was thinking about my brother, I couldn’t help but think of Manning as well. Though I was a NINERS fan growing up in West Lafayette, the Indianapolis Colts have a special place with my family. My parents are diehard Colts fans; and they are diehard Peyton Manning fans. Before him, the man who would lead my NINERS to three straight NFC championship games earlier this decade, winning one – Jim Harbaugh – was, in a previous life, Captain Comeback for the Colts in the early to mid-90s. Then came some lean years until the Colts drafted Manning with the number one pick, carrying on his father Archie’s legacy; and become the man who will go down as one of the five best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
I watched a video of Peyton Manning being interviewed by the local New Orleans media when he was a sophomore in high school, taking over the starting quarterback position for his team, his big brother Cooper a senior star wide receiver. All young, skinny Peyton said when he was given the opportunity to start was that he “wanted to be just like [his] dad” and he meant it. Archie and Olivia were not only good parents, they were great parents. The consensus opinion is that if Archie had gone onto any team besides the Saints, he would have had a stellar career (instead of just a good one), and potentially could have become a hall of famer. He had that kind of talent. It turned out that Archie didn’t become one; however he did become a hall of fame dad. And raised a sure fire Hall of Famer in Peyton and potentially a second in Eli. While Peyton is most certainly one of the all-time greats, what strikes me the most is his devotion to his family, his teammates, his fans and his opponents. He’s a number one person first, a number one football player a distant second. He’s a leader in every sense of the word.
“This one’s for Peyton!”
My close buddy Raym sent Paulie and me a text, the opening lines reading “All I’m hearing from Broncos players about Manning use the words: leader, respect, how he goes to business, how he handles adversity, we are playing for him, we are doing this for him, it is an honor to play with him.”
When Bill Cowher asked Manning in an interview before the game what legacy he wanted to leave behind, a choked up Peyton responded.
“Two of the most important things to me would be that my teammates said that I was a great teammate. That’s important to me. And coaches that I played with and against would say that they respected me. That would be important to me. That’s something my dad always told me to strive for.”
Peyton’s known for his head, but in my mind, he’s all heart, much like my brother.
How could you not root for Peyton? And my brother? I’m happy for both.
“This one’s for Peyton!”
“This one’s for Les!”
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ALWAYS BE EPIC.