It feels like I’ve been watching Peyton Manning play football for my whole life. I have really; at least the parts of my life that have mattered most.
I was in my last year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis when he was a rookie. I remember watching him in the ward room with my roommate on restriction. He beat the Bengals with three touchdown passes that day.
A few years later, I was on a ship halfway around the world on my first deployment. He threw two touchdowns in a season opening win in New York against the Jets. A few miles away, the towers fell two days later. The next month, the Colts had a bye the day the war started when my ship launched the first strikes into Afghanistan. Our picture was on the front page of every paper in the world the next day.
Maybe he was watching us for a change.
In 2004, I didn’t see any football until November. I was deployed to a remote location with no television and no internet. The week I returned he threw four touchdowns and beat the Vikings.
He won his only Super Bowl, in the rain, in 2006, the year my mom died. She loved Peyton. She was the mother of boys. And she loved that he still played with his brother.
A few years later I returned home from Iraq on emergency leave to be with my family after my son was diagnosed with autism. It was the first game I’d watched at home for what seemed like forever. We watched football together; my wife, my boys and me.
It’s what we did. It’s what we do.
Peyton threw three touchdown passes and beat the Texans.
A few months later, from a dusty mess hall in western Iraq I watched him throw a pick six that lost his team the Super Bowl.
Last year, a few years after I left the military world, I finally got to see him play in person. I sat with my wife on a beautiful day in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. His Broncos played my wife’s beloved Chargers. We watched him throw ugly, wobbly balloon ball passes that floated and fluttered right into the hands of his receiver. Most of the life was gone from his once strong arm.
He limped off the field and into the locker room right before half time having injured his leg. He came back in the second half as he always did. His Broncos would win.
Tomorrow, Peyton is probably playing his last game.
The wreckage is bad; four neck surgeries, a bum leg, a bad foot and nerve damage in his arm that makes it hard to grip a football. There’s been a lot of mileage on him the last 18 years. I guess you could say the same thing for me.
For all of us.
For many, none of this matters. Football is just a game after all. But for some of us, sometimes it feels like a lot more. I’m sure tomorrow, as I sit down with my wife and my boys one last time to watch Peyton play, it’s going to be one of those times.
Thanks for the memories Peyton.