The announcement of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as the 2013 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year marks a great choice for this iconic honor.
The annual SI Sportsman award is on an equal plane, in terms of sports, as Time Magazine’s annual Man of the Year award. In each case, everyone is eligible. So it is a massive honor.
Manning becomes the very first person from the state of Colorado to be accorded this honor, and whether given for on field performance, quiet but passionate and constant giving within the community, for a year—any given year, really—or for a career of accomplishment, Peyton Manning is most worthy.
One line that I have used a lot is simply: “Peyton Manning is better than that.”
Whatever one says about what he has done, there is always more to it, and the “more” is usually the most amazing part.
He is the eighth National Football League player or commissioner (Pete Rozelle was a winner) to be accorded this honor, and SI noted that it is not just for Manning’s play, but for how he connects with fans, and not just fans in the Mile High City.
The December 1 issue of Sports Business Journal has reader survey results from a number of questions posed to a national audience, and 62% of responders called Manning “the Face of the NFL.” They could not have selected a better face for our game.
Just two years ago, he was in the process of having four separate medical procedures involving his neck, and in the words of Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, “he couldn’t throw a ball 10 feet.” And in the two years since, he has been the NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2012), finished a very close second in the 2012 Most Valuable Player race, and by any rational standard should receive his record fifth NFL MVP award for his tremendous 2013 campaign.
It can be hard to pinpoint what he does off the field, because he generally does his innumerable charity actions like The Lone Ranger—he does far more away from the glow of media than he does in front of the press. Which happens to fit the mantra of our owner, Pat Bowlen, who repeatedly says you do good things because they are good things, not so somebody pats you on the back for them.
In his previous NFL home in Indianapolis, he made so many contributions of time and value to the St. Vincent’s Children’s Hospital that they changed the name of the hospital itself. It is now the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, operated by St. Vincent’s.
I feel comfortable writing that because the whole world knows it.
But like The Lone Ranger, he has made so many surprise goodwill visits, on his own, without anyone knowing in advance or — in most cases, even after — and then silently slips away before cameras arrive, as to create an urban legend in the department of good works.
With two weeks to play, Manning has 47 touchdown passes this year—his owner personal best is 49—so he is three away from tying the NFL record.
He has led the NFL in TD passes three times, and after this year he should be a four-time leader, tying Johnny Unitas, Steve Young, Len Dawson, Brett Favre and Drew Brees in that department. Quite possibly, he will throw for 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards this year.
Whether judged short term or long, his career is a marvel now being shared by everyone in the Mile High City and by the legions of Broncos Country residents nationally.
In the great John Ford/John Wayne western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the veteran newspaper editor in the fictional Old Wrest town of Shinbone advises one of his young reporters, “When the legend is bigger than the facts, print the legend.”
Such a great line that it served as the title of the definitive tome on John Ford’s life and career.
So, too, does it fit Peyton Manning.
Don’t try to recite all the fantastic victories and statistics that total his NFL success, and you will never know all the stories of charitable giving.
Just print the Legend.