Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Peyton Manning Could be an Eventer.

If there is one person who never needs an introduction here in Knoxville, it's Peyton. If there is one person who need only ever be referred to by his first name, it's Peyton. And, if there is one person who has resoundingly lived up to every single one of our lofty expectations, in a way that no other person possibly can, it is Peyton. He's only won the Super Bowl once, but he's only been there twice. He hasn't always beaten the Patriots every time they played, but he always left the field as a hard-working, respectable gentleman. He has taken praise and criticism in stride, never basking egotistically in the limelight, nor sulking or pouting on the sidelines. He is Peyton and, by gosh, we love him. Indianapolis can share the legacy of Mr. Manning, but they can't claim him outright, because -- you see-- Peyton was a Volunteer before he was a Colt. He loves Tennessee and every-so-often, he makes his way back home here to Knoxville. 

This past week has been a dramatic one for Peyton. I don't think anyone was surprised that Indianapolis set him free. It is difficult to imagine, but it isn't hard to believe. So, the big question is: where will Peyton go next? I think there are lots of good options (Denver? Washington? Miami?). We can only hope and dream that it might be Nashville. But, if at the end of the day, Peyton decides that he might hang up his cleats and decide to leave football, I have a proposition for him. I think that Peyton Manning would make a great eventer, and here is why:

Think of the hours and hours of tape that Peyton has watched in his lifetime. Think of the plays he has studied, the moves he has practiced, the throws he has perfected, the pure devotion to fitness and conditioning that he embodies every second of every day. He practices and practices...eats, sleeps, breathes his sport. Sound like anyone else you know? Yeh, he could be an eventer.

How many times has Peyton looked into the facemask of a 300-pound linebacker and known he was about to hit the ground....hard? How many times has he spun and crashed into an oncoming defender whose one goal was to "take out the QB"? How many times has he taken a snap, dropped back, danced in the pocket, seen his man, thrown a rocket, then felt that crushing instant of bone-jarring contact from a blind-side tackle? Yet, every single time, he got up from the turf, dusted off his britches, readjusted his shoulder pads, straightened his helmet, then looked piercingly down the field towards the endzone, thinking, "Ok, that was just one blown play. NEXT TIME, I'm going all the way." Yeh, he could be an eventer. 

It's loud in an NFL stadium. It's even louder when it's a dome. And, when that dome is the RCA Dome or Lucas Oil Stadium, it's deafening....because all those screaming fans are there for one reason: to see Peyton win football games. When #18 trots onto the field to start an offensive drive, the crowd is transfixed, emotional, electric, and confident. Every ticketholder watches each play with his heart in his throat and a tingle of anxiety snapping at every nerve. It's just a, why do people care? It should be fun and, why do temperatures rise and tempers flare? The men on the field are just human beings. Or, are they? They aren't like you or me. But, they represent you and me; our love of sport, athletics, skill, power, ability, strength, and courage. To see the excitement that Peyton has brought to the game of football in my lifetime has been so rewarding. He has taken it to another level and he has required lesser players to dig in, fight, push their limitations, and step-up. It isn't just a job for him, it is a life's true calling. Yeh, he could be an eventer.

Imagine the intensity with which Peyton would walk cross-country the day before. Walk it one time? Well, of course. Walk it a second time? Probably. Walk it a third time? Most likely. Walk it a fourth time? I wouldn't doubt it. Walk it a fifth time? Yep, that's Peyton. His attention to detail is top-notch. His laser-sharp clarity and determination leaves him with few peers. He is capable of performing well based solely on his amazing instinct and natural ability, but he is successful because he is continually reading, studying, and analyzing every aspect of his craft. He could face a cross-country course with heart, a dressage test with the precision of a surgeon, and he could ride stadium with a coolness that is evidence of his well-honed nerves of steel. Yeh, Peyton could be an eventer.

There are athletes, and then there are competitors. There are those who can physically walk onto a field, and there are those who show up to fight the good fight and who always play fair. Peyton hails from a historic football tradition that isn't just about physical prowess, but it's about family, sportsmanship, camaraderie, teamwork, giving back, and paying it forward. On and off the field, Peyton has presence and people notice him. Kids look up to him; teens idolize him; college players admire him; and all the rest of us see in him the honorable and elite winner we wish we could be. He is a role model and a public figure. He is not a celebrity and he is not a fame-seeking, A-list wannabe. He reads the rules, he learns them, and he plays by them. If he can't win fair and square, then he won't play. To Peyton, it's not just about the "ribbons." Yeh, he could be an eventer.

One thing that we certainly know in the sport of eventing is that we lose much more often than we win. There is a saying that "the way a man plays a game shows some of his character. The way he loses shows all of it." 9 out of 10 times, it's our fault when something goes wrong. Even when it's not entirely our fault, we never blame our horse. Failure doesn't cause us to hang up our helmets and just go home and quit. Losing gives us a chance to realize what we need to do to improve next time and it makes us feel (physically, sometimes) how much we really do care. Watching the press conference the other night, when Jim Irsay announced his decision to release Peyton, it was difficult to not cry (in fact, I did cry, I must admit it). We have all experienced crushing heartbreak, but maybe not as publicly as Peyton did on Wednesday. He stood up in front of the media, his teammates, his friends, his family, and the entire world, and he choked back tears to politely and elegantly accept this separation with dignity and grace. When it came right down to it, it wasn't the sponsors he thanked, or the investors, or the media, or the many people writing his checks. The group that he thanked, with a catch in his voice and an earnest grimace on his brow, was the fans. For Peyton, it isn't about the money. It's not about the awards, the records, or the accolades. For Peyton, it's about the love of the sport and the chance to play the game. He just wants to get out of bed every day and go out and do what he loves: be a quarterback. So, yeh, I think Peyton could be an eventer. 

I look forward to the next step in Peyton's career. No matter where he goes, I will be cheering for him all the way. He is one-of-a-kind. When it comes to football, there will never be another Peyton Manning. And, if this new turn in his life leads him away from football, maybe he'll think about giving eventing a try. I think he'd fit perfectly into our community and we'd all have a lot of fun. I guess the only consideration remaining on this subject is the all-important question: but, can he ride a horse?


Jen said...

LOVE this post! And I agree 100%:)

Holly Ratcliff said...

Thanks, Jen! Think we can recruit him? :-)

Rest and Be Thankful Farm said...

Can't anyone convince Peyton that eventing will far, far outstrip playing in Denver where the air is too thin and Elway will be breathing down his neck like a 1st level dressage mom? Put him on some sort of 17 hand paint OTTB cross with a helmet cam and watch the ratings soar! The FEI will be asking HIM to videotape his cross country...